My oldest son, Aaron, is in second grade this year. We made it through the easy reader phase. Then the early chapter book phase. And during the last year or so, we've been settling into the chapter book (or middle grade or children's novel or whatever you want to call it) phase.
It's been a challenge.
I'm kind of surprised to hear myself admitting this, but it's true. Usually I love the book selection process, but it has not been easy with Aaron.
For one thing, he is totally impassive when it comes to books. Whatever I put into his hands, he will read. That should make it so easy, right? I could literally indoctrinate this kid with whatever I wanted, and he would just shrug his shoulders and go with it.
But it's not easy at all. I have nothing to gauge books off of. The only author he has ever admitted to liking without any prompting from me was Roald Dahl, and we all know Roald Dahl is in a class pretty much by himself.
I have never seen Aaron get so caught up in a book that he stays up late into the night because he can't wait to see what happens next. He never stops mid-chapter and says, "Mom, you have got to read this book!" He never tells me to get more of the books in a series or, alternatively, not to bring anymore of them home. If he comes to the library with me, he spends the entire time in the craft book section and just expects me to pick up something good for him.
For a long time, I selected his next book from book lists I felt I could trust. There are worse ways to pick a book for sure, but my method had one little flaw: I was trying to find books I had no interest in reading.
As you know, I read aloud to my kids a lot, and we've enjoyed dozens of excellent children's novels together (many of which Aaron has later reread). We've read the first books in many series (Paddington, Poppy, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Wizard of Oz, etc.). These should be excellent jumping-off points for Aaron, but I have hoarded them rather selfishly. What if I want to make the next book in the series our next readaloud and he's already read it?
So instead I gave him Origami Yoda and Captain Awesome and The Clubhouse Mysteries--not necessarily bad books but definitely books that I knew I'd never have the desire to read aloud, so they were safe.
The problem was, I actually had no idea what was in those books, and Aaron is not the type that will give a complete plot summary just by asking, "So, what was the book about?" The more he read, the more disconnected I felt . . . even though I was the one choosing the books!
But then, several weeks ago, I was reading Honey For a Child's Heart, and it was like a switch was flipped, and I could finally see quite clearly the holes in my reasoning and the problems with my book selection process. What was I doing?! Something had to change, and fast.
Let me insert one thing before I go any further: like I said before, I really didn't have a problem with the books I mentioned above. If Aaron had shown even a spark of interest in reading on in any of those series, I know I would have encouraged it. However, the problem for me was that since I had no interest in those books, I couldn't really engage in any sort of discussion with Aaron about them. Something was missing. Reading had become a chore for him (and for me).
I made some immediate changes, which included: using the Honey For a Child's Heart book lists, choosing a book to read along with Aaron, printing off Sarah Mackenzie's quick start guide with discussion questions, and letting Aaron continue on with series we'd already started.
Let me talk about each of these in a little more detail:
Use the Honey for a Child's Heart book lists
I already talked about this a little bit when I reviewed Honey For a Child's Heart: Gladys Hunt's book lists focus on classic books that teach good morals and values. She doesn't really include any trendy (or, as some like to label them, "twaddley") books on her lists, which I appreciate since those are fairly easy to find on my own. Her lists are good just for simply reminding me of good books I've read that I could pass along to Aaron. However, I am a little wary of handing him books from the list I haven't read yet simply because I didn't always agree with her age recommendations for books I did know and also, I don't think she really has a problem with recommending boring books (not that such a thing would necessarily be a problem since, like I said before, Aaron will read pretty much anything I give him). However, what I'm really excited about with these book lists is how they will help me with the next change I'm making.
Read a book with Aaron
I'm not talking about reading aloud to Aaron (that's something we're already doing a lot of and will continue to do). Rather, I want to choose a book that we can both read separately but simultaneously. (This would never have worked with my previous method because I don't think I could have gagged down Origami Yoda, but now that I've opened up our options, there are literally hundreds of great books I've been dying to read that he would probably enjoy too.) This is where Gladys Hunt's book lists will come in handy because we'll have more ideas than we could ever possibly get through. Also, since I'll be reading it along with him, if I run into one of the problems I mentioned in the section above (i.e., boring or too advanced), I won't make him suffer through it. (In the last couple of weeks, we actually already read one together (Sideways Stories From Wayside School), and I'll be talking more about that experience when I review it.) Mike has also agreed to read a book here and there along with Aaron. Right now, they're both reading, The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman.
Use Sarah Mackenzie's quick start guide
Part of what was missing with Aaron was just any type of meaningful discussion after reading a book. I usually just asked him, "Did you like it?" and he responded with, "Sure," and that was the end of it. (Ironically, this question works like a charm with Maxwell. That kid needs almost no encouragement when it comes to chatting with me about things.) Sarah Mackenzie's guide is thoughtful, and she gives five questions that are easily adapted to practically any book. (However, I've discovered the first three questions don't work very well if I don't have any knowledge of the plot, which is one more reason for me to do some reading along with Aaron.) My plan is to use these questions both with the books Aaron is reading solo and with the books we are reading aloud as a family. They can be used either while we're still in the middle of the story or after we're entirely finished. Right now, it feels a little scripted, but I think the more we engage in meaningful discussions, the more natural it will become.
Let Aaron continue on with a series we have already started
Guess what? There are a lot of great books in this world. So many, in fact, that I am not going to have the time to read all of them out loud. That is the sad truth I have come to accept over the last few weeks. So even though I'd like to read all of the books in the Tales of Dimwood Forest or The Chronicles of Narnia, it might not be logistically possible. But just because I can't finish them all with my kids doesn't mean Aaron shouldn't have the chance to find out what happens. Now that I've loosened up my hold, we have so many more options, and I can keep him well supplied in books I already know I approve of (and having a discussion is much easier because I'm already familiar with the characters). And if I decide I really want to read a book aloud that he's already read, I know he's not going to mind listening to it again.