Love a Book? Don’t Tell Your Kids!

by Robert Pondiscio
May 3rd, 2012

When you were a kid, did you ever read a book that changed your life?  Well, don’t tell your kids if you want it to have the same effect on them. “Remember how a parental recommendation was the kiss of death when you were a kid?” asks legendary children’s author Judy Blume. “That hasn’t changed — no matter how well-deserved the kudos are.”

Blume made the comment at the recent LA Times Festival of Books.  I’m mightily inclined to agree.  One of my teaching pet peeves has always been the tendency to wax rhapsodic over books and make our kids feel that they are somehow missing out–if not outright defective–if they aren’t as enraptured by a well-loved book as we are.  In a world in which kids can immerse themselves in “Call of Duty” and “Halo,” telling them “reading is magical” like telling them they should love spinach.  Don’t tell them. Show them.  Class readalouds of a compelling book have probably done more to spread the notion that reading is enjoyable than any earnest talk about the power of books to take us on journeys in our minds.

Other bits of advice on engaging readers from Blume, per the Huffington Post.

“As great as you think those nostalgic old book covers are, get your kids the new editions. The covers will draw them in. They want the new stuff.”

“Before you give your child the beloved book, leave it lying around the house, preferably on your nightstand. Then, when your daughter asks about the book, tell her that you picked it up for her, but now you’re not sure she’s old enough for it.”

“Try not to be judgmental of what your child is reading and don’t censor their book selection.”

Blume “hates it when books list what age reader the book is for.” She remembers pulling an illustrated copy of Lysistrata off the shelves when she was about 12, notes HuffPo. “She was very curious about the adult world and books gave her a look into that world.”

In an unrelated post, Dan Willingham notes that teachers are avid readers who “love books not only for the purpose of reading them, but as physical objects.”  He links to a section of Reddit called BookPorn.  Amazing pictures.  Enjoy.  But don’t tell the kids.


  1. I have to heartily disagree in part.

    It depends on how it is done. If someone goes on and on about the joys of reading, or the greatness of Shakespeare, a kid could easily be turned off. But a parent or teacher’s informed love of a particular work may be just the thing to bring a young person to it.

    I was pretty resistant, overall, to my parents’ recommendations. But it was my father who introduced me to Oscar Wilde; my mother, to Jane Austen. Teachers drew me to books by actually teaching them. I remember their tone of voice when reading and discussing Hardy, Faulkner, O’Connor.

    In a way, that’s what you’re saying: show, don’t tell. In all of these cases, the adults showed what was compelling about these works instead of just praising them. But their enthusiasm (which was specific and unmistakably genuine) did indeed kindle my interest.

    That said, I have, on occasion, told my students that it is important to immerse themselves in the reading–that they will get more out of it if they give it their full attention and put distractions aside. I don’t harp on it, but I think it’s worth saying now and then. Many kids don’t know this. They have their phones nearby and their iPods on while they read.

    As for kids wanting “new stuff,” it depends on the kid and the book. I was drawn to old, crumbling, dusty editions and still am. (Then, too, it depends on the degree of crumbling. It isn’t that great to turn a page and watch it break.)

    Comment by Diana Senechal — May 3, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

  2. The Fantasticks is a 1960 musical with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones. It was produced by Lore Noto. It tells an allegorical story, loosely based on the play “The Romancers” (“Les Romanesques”) by Edmond Rostand,[1] concerning two neighboring fathers who trick their children, Luisa and Matt, into falling in love by pretending to feud and erecting a wall between their houses

    Comment by Brad Miller — May 3, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

  3. How about family read-alouds? This has been one of the great pleasures in our family, earned a few later bed times to finish that chapter and truly built a love of story for my children.

    Comment by DC Parent — May 4, 2012 @ 3:34 am

  4. I have one of the most stubborn teenagers I’ve ever met, and if I recommend the book, it’s a no-go. However, I’ve learned that if I seed his bookshelf with good stuff, or play an audiobook in the car that he might like, I can give him the opportunity to “find” the good reads on his own. My younger son is open to suggestions, the older one would rather eat glass than admit I may have been right about a book (or a movie, for that matter).

    Luckily, my students trust my recommendations, so I can find some satisfaction there. If I relied on my son’s judgment alone, I might just believe I am terminally uncool and out of touch with reality. No comments from the peanut gallery, please.

    Comment by Jess — May 4, 2012 @ 9:41 am

  5. With two teen aged boys in the house, we’re always looking for good non-fiction to read. They both know I read a lot and look for and share recommendations with me. It helps that my cousin is a librarian, who can direct us to good reads. Without her, we would never have discovered Going Bovine, my 17 yr-old’s favorite book. And thanks to Core Knowledge and IB, he says A Tale of Two Cities is worth reading, too.

    Comment by Cassyt — May 4, 2012 @ 11:59 am

  6. One of the most difficult sentences I’ve had to utter was directed at my 14 year old son, “If you have read part of the book and truly don’t enjoy it, quit reading it.” As an avid reader, I cannot remember a book I didn’t finish, even if I didn’t really enjoy it. I have found that he may begin a book, put it aside and come back to it a year or two later. Making frequent trips to the bookstore to browse unhurriedly has also encouraged him to take his time to find just the perfect book.

    Comment by Maggie — May 4, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

  7. Jess,

    I don’t care what your son thinks about you: you are definitely not uncool. From your writing, I can tell that you are far out, groovy, hip, rad, tight, drippin’…..

    If anybody knows a foolproof way to inspire lifelong interest in serious reading, please let me know. My 8th grade son would rather be on electronic gadgets than read anything – ditto for most American boys these days.

    I’m consoled by remembering something William Bennett once wrote. He was an indifferent student and reader until he read something at age 17 that ignited his intellectual curiosity; he hasn’t stopped serious reading since. There’s always hope.

    Comment by John Webster — May 6, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

  8. Kids today definitely need a little more motivation to read than from other generations. Because they are so enticed by technology, I agree with several points made by Blume. The cover of a book is the first thing a child sees; therefore, using updated versions of classical stories is a great way to encourage children to read a book. Secondly, it is almost imperative that we as teachers and parents encourage students to read books that interest them, which is why I love the advice Maggie gave to her son. Books are meant to be enjoyed.

    As a response to John–
    I have a 12 year old daughter as well and she too loves anything electronic. One thing we do together is read. We read books together and discuss the events and our opinions. I let her choose the books but we set some time aside everyday ideally but at least every other day. All cell phones, computers, and tvs get turned off and we read together. Because I convey excitement and interest about the book, she becomes more and more interested. I make sure that I do not view our reading time as homework or a chore. If she really doesn’t feel like reading, I don’t force her because we want them to enjoy reading as opposed to viewing it as something they have to do. See is your son can find a book of interest and join him!

    Comment by Amber VanKirk — May 15, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

While the Core Knowledge Foundation wants to hear from readers of this blog, it reserves the right to not post comments online and to edit them for content and appropriateness.