Book Review: How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, by Esmé Raji Codell

Potato Power and Possibilities

Flower GardenIn Esmé Raji Codell’s parents’/educators’ guide How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, the former teacher, school librarian, children’s book seller and best-selling author of Educating Esmé examines a fundamental question, “How do we teach our children, using what is available to us…Is there anything available to us that is as plentiful and versatile as potatoes, ready to feed all appetites?”

The answer, of course, is a resounding “Yes!”

Studies have shown and credited “children’s literature for everything from school achievement to emotional development…and so many of the dreams and goals we have for children, and that they have for themselves, can be advanced through the use of children’s literature,” she writes.

Reading recipes for all literary appetites

This book is a fat treasure trove. It serves up one tantalising recipe after another of children’s literature.

Codell desires not only to share good books with children, she views it just as vital to introduce the people behind the books – authors and illustrators – and connect readers with creators, by asking important questions like “Why did the author write this?” or “What did the author want to share?”

Dads and Mums who discuss such issues when reading to kids help connect them “across time and space with this real person, this author, who had something to share, and care enough to share it.”

Once a child understands that a book is an extension of an author, he will understand it is natural to prefer some authors to others. It opens the child to read another book, to learn what someone else has to share. He is then, less likely to develop a “negative association with books” or think that he hates reading in general.

Diverse themes across 9 chapters

Diverse themes spread across 9 chapters, allow parents to zoom in on topics closely tied with their children’s interests.

In Part I – Beginning Your Adventure in the World of Children’s Literature – Codell shares 5 “Magic Pieces of Background Knowledge” to help parents better navigate the family adventure to bolster children’s love of reading, and recognising the “Three Is” – Interest, Integration and Invention.

She explains (p 13-15), “Interest-motivated reading is when a child seeks out reading materials for information and/or enjoyment…Integrated reading happens when a child is convinced to use reading as a springboard into other disciplines” (like art).

If children have enjoyed a family movie or outing, Dads can motivate them to learn more about the event or idea by borrowing related books from the library. Provide them with opportunities to create new artwork based on the experience. Discuss qualities of admired characters and let children experiment, through reading, and eventually decide “what kind of people they want to be.” Through reading, children can invent, re-invent or further develop themselves.

In Part VIII for “Nurturing Book Lovers and Book Creators” Codell asserts (p 290-294), “Poetry is especially suited to children. Poems are the cousins of songs and are as necessary in their family of joy.” She feels that since “children love to collect trading cards, stuffed toys…why not poems?…If we believe reading is a gift that will help a child to never be lonely, we must give children poems to tuck away and take out as needed…for counting the minutes until you return home from work…”

By exposing children to general and thematic anthologies (collections of poems by different authors) and letting them decorate a box or notebook to keep their favourite findings reflecting their personal tastes, they will want to return to it repeatedly.

“Special Features” and Activities

These features are sprinkled throughout the book. For example, with Potato Picks, Codell suggests outstanding single titles, read-aloud selections, book gifts and jewels in children’s literature and in Reading Heroes, she highlights mentors who have influenced and taught her something important about reading, how to love and share it.

Dads can try out these simple activities with children of all ages!

  1. “Take Dictation” from emergent readers (p 57): Fold a few pieces of blank paper in half, add a coloured paper cover and staple the edges to “bind” it together like a book. Ask the child what story he would like to tell. Write it exactly as the child tells it. Include the story title and his name. Leave space for him to illustrate. Watch the formidable act unfold: A child motivated – and proud – to read out his work, in his own words!
  2. Organise a “Parade of Books” party (p 338/471) for younger or lower primary children, in conjunction with birthday parties, school or community activities. Let them dress up as their favourite book characters and march in with their featured books. Parents can set sensible rules: “Costumes” must be ‘home-made’ and kids must have actually read about the character!Be enthused by “parade books” like And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss. “Sample Letters” and “Costume Sheets” (Appendix D) help get the ball rolling.
  3. Let upper primary kids undertake an “Author/Illustrator Study” project (p 309) and chart a table filled with information nuggets relating to: Character, Setting, Events, Problem/Conflict/Solution, Research and Observations (Appendix C). Use it as a platform to discuss the reading experience!

This book is a good resource for parents eager to introduce interest-targeted books to children. Borrow it from the National Library the next time you visit!

The book is available for loan at Singapore Public Libraries.


About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.

Categories: Books & Zines, Free

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