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Book Smart 

A bibliophile describes her best effort to get her son to read

When my first son, Tucker, was born, I looked forward to reading him bedtime stories. I remembered how much I loved hearing them before bed when I was little — a story here, a chapter there — until I was reading on my own each night, something I do to this day. My love of books inspired me to become a children's librarian and to pursue my current job as program director for the Waterbury-based Children's Literacy Foundation. I've always thought: Reading is in my blood.

I was determined to nurture Tucker's love of reading — even before day one. In preparation for his arrival, I bought copies of my favorite children's classics, requested books as shower gifts and made sure to install a bookshelf in his bedroom. I planned to read him a story when he awoke in the morning and another before bed every night.

When he was a newborn, my ambitious plan worked. He awoke to "I think I can, I think I can" and went to bed to the tune of "on Wednesday he ate through four strawberries." It was wonderful, a dream come true.

And then, suddenly, it was over.

When Tucker was about 3 months old, it suddenly became apparent that he and I had very different opinions about what constitutes a good book or bedtime story. My "tradition" of picking out a book, placing him on my lap, and reading a story from start to finish came to an abrupt end. The chaos began even before I reached the first page. For Tucker, the book was there to be devoured — literally. Setting a book in front of him was like placing a large bowl of hamburger in front of our dog.

At first, I would gently pull the volume from his mouth, and tell him that we don't chew books; we read them. His response? He grabbed and ripped the pages, and threw the books to the floor. He didn't care about the story; he just wanted a snack. I remained calm, telling him to be gentle.

But inside, I was dying. Every time a glob of drool landed on a page, every time Tucker ripped off a corner, my stomach would tighten in knots. "Be nice to the book!" I wanted to say. "You're ruining it! How are you going to be exposed to all these vocabulary words and learn that a caterpillar turns into a butterfly if you don't listen to the story?"

Trying a different approach, I sat with Tucker close to my body and held a book in my hands with my arms straight out in front of me. That kept him from grabbing the book.

He kicked it instead.

This was pretty much how it went for the first two years of my son's life. I started to think maybe I hadn't given birth to a reader. Was it possible?

And then one day, when Tucker was 2, we had a breakthrough. I was reading a magazine; he, I thought, was playing with trucks. But when I looked up at him, I realized that he was looking at a book. Not only was he looking at the book, but he also started telling me the story, repeating the words that I had read to him over and over, the ones I thought he hadn't heard.

The whole time he was climbing up and down his "story-time" chair, skipping over pages, interrupting the story, he was listening! It was music to my ears.

Turns out Tucker likes books. Reading grew on him. Now my only problem is that I find myself saying "You want me to read that book again? Really?"

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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Suzanne Loring


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