Monday, December 3, 2012

OH, It's a Book; or What to Give a Reluctant Reader

     The season of gift giving is here, and I know what all of you TA followers want...a book. Right?  And what is our go-to gift for the loved ones in our lives? A book.

     I learned early that those square packages that didn't rattle when you shook them were either underwear or a books.  A solid thump would eliminate the former and affirm the latter. No matter what other presents I received, Christmas afternoon would find me curled up with my gift book.  My beloved Charlotte's Web was a gift from my father when I was eight.  A biography, You Might as Well Live, my junior year of high school began a life long love of Dorothy Parker.  My dad was the book giver in my family.  He somehow knew just the right book for me, and what I had already read.  I suppose I should not have been surprised since he was an FBI agent with excellent powers of observation.

   Holiday giving was pretty easy at my house.  Both of my parents were non-fiction readers whose tastes ran to non-fiction, particularly political history and biography. They never read fiction. Christmas at my house was books, books and more books (and, from my ever-practical mother, underwear).

    When I had a child of my own, I felt blessed that she loved books as much as I. Every gift giving occasion included at least one new book, that her father or I would read to her. 

    Then my daughter was diagnosed as severely dyslexic.  While her own vocabulary and understanding of what was read to her was far beyond her grade level, what she could actually read for herself did a number on her self-esteem and willingness to persevere. While everyone in her class was reading Harry Potter, my daughter could not read the picture books that I had written about her.  It was a frustrating situation, since she still loved books and stories.

    Maybe you have a reluctant reader or one, who like my daughter, has so much difficulty reading that it is an ordeal rather than a pleasure. 

    1. Magazine subscription--My husband swears that the only reason he ever read as a child was that his parents gave him a Sports Illustrated subscription every year from third grade on. My dad, the Wizard of Gifts, didn't miss a beat when he learned his granddaughter would never be a reader. He added up her love of nature, travel and her talent as a photographer...and renews her subscription to National Geographic every Christmas. Today, Lily is a National Arts Honor Student in Photography. Her career goal?  To be a National Geographic photographer, of course.

   2. Don't overlook the e books and magazines.  I know I know...there's nothing like a book. However, for a kid, there is nothing like convenience.  When I was a librarian, I noticed that if a student had a choice between the same book in hardcover or paperback, they would always choose the paperback.  They were already lugging around pounds of textbooks; a paperback could fit in their pocket or purse, always ready for a spare minute's reading. The same goes for our kids and their various electronic gadgets.  There is nothing more convenient than a download to an electronic reader or tablet. (E formats can be downloaded to computers as well...but not so convenient.)

    As I mentioned in a previous post, Lily took to the Kindle immediately because there are a variety of applications that can provide voice-activation. Be sure to check when ordering an e-book that voice-activation is available for that particular title. For instance, both of my middle grade novels Yankee Girl and Jimmy's Stars are voice enabled. The one book Lily is dying to read, To Kill a Mockingbird, is not even available as an e-book. (And no, the movie is not the same thing. We saw it again as a family at Thanksgiving and those of us who have read it agree that as wonderful as Gregory Peck is, it is not the same experience as Harper Lee's lyrical prose.)

   As for e-magazines, it would be easier to list those not available electronically.  You can download a subscription to everything from Sesame Street to Seventeen to Sports Illustrated.  

   One word of caution.  Picture books derive much of their meaning from their arrangement of pictures and text.  Even though there are a number of picture books that are available in e format, the print to screen layout is not always the same. There are books designed specifically as e books (Lulu's Brew by Elizabeth Dulemba immediately comes to mind.)  The same is true of verse novels and books of poetry. As much as I love Ellen Hopkins' YA novels, a great deal of their meaning is derived from the way the verse is arranged on the page...something which does not always turn up in the version. 

3.  Audio books--I love being read to. So does my husband. When we were first married and our car did not have a tape player, I would read to him on long car trips. You know you are in love if you are willing to spend an 18 hour car trip reading a corporate history of the Anheuser-Busch company, aloud. 

    By the time our daughter came along we had upgraded to cars with tape and then CD players.  We made a lot of long car trips.  Enter the audio book. Both Lily and my husband ( see item one) enjoyed hearing Henry Huggins, the Ramona books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Percy Jackson Series.
(We are still awaiting an audio version of To Kill a Mockingbird.)

   Two words of wisdom in buying reading material for anyone. One...if you don't know the person well enough to know they will be interested in your gift selection, don't give a book. If you have to ask a bookseller, "What are 12-year-olds (fill in the appropriate age) reading?" then you don't know this child well enough to give them a book. I learned this the hard way from my husbands nieces and nephew who were not readers. For years they would open my present with a fake smile and an unenthusiastic "Oh, it's a book." I also have observed the wrath of some parents whose child was given "what 12-year-olds are reading," (usually by a grandparent), only to find that the parent found the book inappropriate.  When in doubt...give a gift card to their local (independent, if possible) bookseller.

    Two...just because you loved a book doesn't mean your child will.  The only audio book that was spurned by both Lily and my husband, was Charlotte's Web! Sigh.  It happens to the best of us.

     Happy (book giving) holidays, one and all.

     Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Linda B said...

Mary, this is a sweet post, filled with good advice, but also personal about your daughter's challenges in reading. Isn't it great to have the e-readers for whomever needs them, or enjoys them too? And the audio books are wonderful to me; with long commutes, I have enjoyed many books. As for using other paths to learning, my school is an independent school that celebrates the differences of each of our students, who learn by working at their own topic, with their own curriculum written by the teachers. I imagine your daughter would have flourished here. And, we've had quite a few study photography through the years. Thanks for the good advice, especially NOT to buy a book for someone you don't know well. I hate to leave them out, but there are some who would not appreciate even the thought!

Anonymous said...

This was a wonderful post! I laughed out loud about knowing you are in love via reading aloud to your husband in the car. how I wish I could read in the car or on a train without feeling nauseous!

As for giving books to unenthusiastic readers, I can't help myself! I like to mark my favorite passage or chapter with a bookmark and ask them to read that section if nothing else. Hopefully that will hook them!

Anonymous said...

such great ideas...and they really should release an ereader version of to kill a mockingbird. such a beautiful story.

mary ann rodman said...

Wow, thank you all for such heartfelt commentary. Linda, I too wish I could have found a better educational situation for Lily. You would think a city the size of Atlanta would have had more options. The only one we found would have taken us hours and hours of driving (or moving into a neighborhood we couldn't afford...and mean hours and hours of driving for my husband), plus a tuition that would have wiped us out.
Valerie--I too am puzzled by the lack of diverse formats for TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD. I was hoping that after the hoopla of the books 50th anniversary a couple years ago that the publisher would loosen up and come up with more formats. Maybe if we all write the publisher:)
After I wrote yesterday, I realized that the perfect present for my perpetually traveling husband (he's in Australia this week, Miami the next)....his own Kindle! I used to loan him books until he left one on a plane ("You wanted it back? But you already read it." Grrr.) I will start him off with a new Sports Illustrated subscription (his has lapsed since his father died.)
Bildebok, I like your idea for tagging your favorite chapter or passage. I may have to swipe it!
Still, books are as personal as scent. Just as I would never buy Lily perfume without studying her current favorites and what she already has on hand, I would never buy a book for someone I didn't know really, really well.