Public libraries may be one of the few spaces left where parents can stand more than four feet away from their children without fear of arrest or at least social media shaming. So I’m surprised at how many parent-child pairs I encounter in the stacks engaged in loud negotiations over library books that are “not Reading Level 2” or “too hard for you.” I’ve heard countless parents beg their children to pick “just one more book.” Much less often, a parent yells “you can’t get that many books.”
I’m sympathetic to parentally-imposed maximum book limits, as knowing how many books your child has out makes it easier to locate them when it’s time to return them. It’s likewise reasonable to me that parents of young children wish to impose some control over the quality of the books (fewer film synopses masquerading as books and more actual books). But I cannot figure out why parents should be so concerned with their children picking the “right” book from the library. I issue plenty of library ultimatums—just last week it was If you don’t get up the floor I’m leaving without these Ricky Ricotta books—but it’s never occurred to me to place restrictions on what’s too hard, too easy, or not enough reading.
It seems as though parents at my library understand that reading is important, and that the “right” reading is even more important. But the emphasis on getting the “right” book seems like a great way to make kids hate reading. Imagine if every time you picked up a fluffy beach read, your own mother popped out and told you that you weren’t challenging yourself enough, and how anyway, you really needed to learn about World War II pilots.
I don’t think any of us are trying to be that war-book-mongering parent, but it’s easy to start barking orders when we’re focused on sight words and reading levels, or even just a broader “educational” directive. I’d argue that the most appropriate library book is a library book your kid wants to read, and it’s surprisingly easy to help him find it:
1) Get him his own library card. If you’re rationing your kid’s books because you’re about to hit the ceiling on borrowing, there is a simple solution: get more library cards. Even a two-year-old can get a library card.
2) Shut up. Once you’ve signed the forms and your kid has his own card, let him wander the stacks without your commentary. Do not pester him about reading levels, sight words, educational content, or his narrow-minded obsession with birds of the North Atlantic. If some misguided school requirement maintains that you pick out a specific book, add it to his stack at the end of the trip.
3) If you must speak, speak to a librarian. She will be far less concerned with getting your kid the “right” reading level, “right” length, or “right” ratio of words to pictures and far more concerned with helping your kid find the right book: that is, a book he wants to read.
4) Order more books. Remember that new library card from Step 1? Your child can use it to request books from other libraries, so he can browse online and request as many books about dwarf planets or magic tree houses as he can carry. [Ready to order but not sure what to look for? Check out these tips for finding children’s fiction and nonfiction.]
5) Get your own books. If you’re dragging your child through the library because you think he has to read books, your mission is doomed to fail. Going off in search of your own books will model that reading is supposed to be fun. You may also find that, depending on the trip, you’re in the mood for a silly mystery or a treatise on the meaning of life. Paying attention to your own reading moods and tastes will help you accept and encourage your child’s preferences.