For the past 30 years, I have been a literacy advocate. During the summer of 1983, I learned that my grandfather was illiterate.
My paternal grandparents watched me while my parents were at work. Daily, my grandfather would take me to the local library, and I would encourage him to check out books, too. He always refused. That was when I inferred that reading was a challenge to him. I will never forget sitting on the front porch with an armload of picture books. On a routine basis, I would ask him to read the books with me, and tears would simply fall down his cheeks. My aim was to teach him how to read. I vividly recall him yelling to my grandmother, “Canary, tell this gal to get into the house and leave me alone.” Through these experiences, I realized the importance of books, the stories that they told, and how so many people missed out on these rich tales due their inability to read.
Many parents find themselves trying to “sell” reading to children. Over the years, students have told me, “Dr. Cobb, I hate to read. I don’t know how you can stand reading. Don’t you have other things to do?” I was compelled to write this article after my dear friend’s daughters recently wanted to go to AMC 24, yet the available times were not conducive to their mother’s work schedule. I said, “Would you like to go to Barnes and Noble instead?” They proceeded to melodramatically roll their eyes and brush their hair.
Parents, do not give up on your child falling in love with literature. Dr. Ryon Cobb, my younger brother, and I are polar opposites. During his formative years, Ryon hated reading, whereas reading was my favorite pastime. Our mother would take us shopping. He would be in the back seat playing with his toys, and I would be in the front seat reading a novel. My mother, a voracious reader, attempted to bribe him, and it did not work. Ryon did not see the benefits of reading until he was a freshman at Indiana University. A professor assigned a book that opened a door for him. The rest is history. When you walk into his home, books are everywhere.
If you would like to help promote literacy in your home, consider the following steps:
1. Explore what your child’s interests are. Select books that would capture his/her attention. This is like the classic phrase, “You attract flies with honey.” Connect your child’s reading experiences with real life. This will help your child understand your vested interest in his/her reading activity. If your child has an interest in giraffes, take your child to the Phoenix Zoo. Help your child understand that his or reading experiences are not limited to the pages found in the book.
2. Share your personal interests with books. Help your child understand how literature has impacted your life. This conversation may occur over dinner while driving in the car, or while you are reviewing your student’s homework. Show him/her that books play a significant role in your life. This is imperative. By engaging in this type of discourse, children will understand that reading does not stop at the end of 12th grade. Demonstrate that reading will have a long-term impact on their post-secondary career.
3. Visit the library. I cannot emphasize this enough. We live in a digital era. Most parents own an iPad or a Kindle Fire. These tablets do not replace the experiences associated with visiting a public library, asking a librarian for assistance, and combing bookshelves for possible “treasures.” Make library time an experience that will allow you to bond with your child. If you make time to take your child to sporting events, then do so over books and a bookmark.
As your child transitions from middle to high school, it is imperative that you emphasize the importance of reading. Reading aides such as Cliffs Notes and Spark Notes only set up students for failure if they elect not to read the assigned novel. High school students need to read on a daily basis. It is critical that they read, hone their comprehension skills, and demonstrate these skills in their writing assignments.
• Dr. Cicely Denean Cobb is an English instructor at Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee Foothills. She specializes in American studies; multicultural children’s and adolescent literature; and the usage of digital literacy in English classrooms. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.