(Many of the kids who grew up watching Reading Rainbow in the 80’s are starting to have kids of their own now, and foremost on many of these new parents’ minds is how (or if) they can raise their kids to love reading. The “Parenting” section of local bookstores have been noticeably lacking in books addressing how to raise readers… Until now! I was able to catch up with Jason Boog, author of the new book Born Reading, Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age—From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between to talk about his experience writing this book, being a new parent, and raising a reader. –Jenni)
Born Reading is unique among parenting “how to” books, in that it’s a kind of parenting manual for readers. What prompted you to write this kind of book?
When [my daughter Olive] was born I started reading books to her from the very first weeks of her life. It’s a little boring having a newborn, they don’t do much, so I kind of did it to entertain myself at first, but after a few months I could see that she was responding and it was obviously beneficial to her, so I started asking experts about why reading was getting such a reaction, and the best ways to do it.
As I did more research I found out there are tremendous benefits to reading to kids. If you read in an interactive manner you can increase kids’ IQ by more than 6 pts. That figure really blew my mind. At that point I thought “Why didn’t they tell me this in the hospital??” this is a really important way to drastically improve your child’s life. That discovery is what motivated me to spread the word.
Do parents who are already readers have a leg up when it comes to raising readers? Or can non-bookworms become readers alongside their children?
At the end of writing this book I realized how much I owed to my parents and other caregivers such as my grandparents. I grew up surrounded by books. Reading and writing have always been a big part of my personal identity, and I always took credit for it. But I realized that reading is a set of behaviors that I learned from my parents—like riding a bike or eating healthy. I’m so grateful to them for it. On the other hand, if you as a new parent aren’t an avid reader, a few weeks of doing these techniques will change the way you look at reading as an activity. You will never read the same way again.
Born Reading includes a number of what you call “Conversation Starters”, ideas about how to talk to your kids about what they’re reading. What these Conversation Starters really do is encourage critical reading and critical thinking. Was that on purpose, or was it just a happy side-effect the Interactive Reading technique?
I did a lot of research; I spoke to the founders of the interactive reading techniques, people who’ve been developing these techniques for 25 years. They gave me a complete education in interactive reading. I wrote the book chronologically, from infancy to kindergarten and beyond. When I hit the kindergarten stage of book I started to read about the environment in the schools, especially the Common Core—which 43 states have adopted by now. It’s going to be a pretty major change in the way schools work, the things students read and the way they read in schools. I saw at that point that a lot of the interactive reading techniques were critical thinking skills. When I looked at the curriculum I could see how many important skills they were teaching children. I can already see [the effects of the Interactive Reading Technique] with my daughter—she’s comfortable when she talks about a book. She will have no fear or anxiety talking about books in classroom.
I love the format of Born Reading–it’s the perfect combination of research, advice and anecdote. I especially love the Storytelling Lessons and Born Reading Playbooks sprinkled throughout. What can you tell me about the structure and writing of your book?
The amazing thing about this project was that I was able to ask all the questions I had as a parent as I had them, in realtime. I was raising my daughter while writing this book, and the format came very organically. Every time I had a question I had a team of experts I could consult with about it. It was amazing. I wish all parents could have this. I really wanted to write the book that I needed at that moment, and that’s pretty much what guided it. It was not like anything I’d written before. It was an amazing experience that related to my life so directly.
You mentioned in a recent interview with the School Library Journal that you “first envisioned [your] book as focused entirely on digital reading and the shift to a new kind of reading.” While Born Reading is very much about raising readers in a digital age, it is by no means focused entirely on that, and in fact urges parents to be cautious in that regard. What can you tell me about how and why that change came about?
In researching this book I spoke to a neuroscientist about the way kids’ brains change when you read to them. When you read to a child they’re hardwired to respond to a human voice. When you read to a child you’re actually carving new neuropathways, turning their brain on. The scientists told me that no recorded voice can do this same thing for a child. It just doesn’t have the same effect.
That was the moment I realized that we must have an interactive reading experience with our children during this period. We can’t let devices do it for us. This was a revelation for me. I need to make sure my daughter, when she’s using a device, is not just having solitary experience. She’s having one-on-one conversations with me and other caregivers. I realized how very important that is. The printed book is kind of the ideal technology for this—and I love digital devices, we use them every day in our family.
What were you like as a child? Were you an avid reader yourself?
I had to ask my mom about this, and she said she took me to the library even as a toddler. One of my earliest memories is reading books and going to the library. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading. This reinforced for me that my parents had to work pretty hard to do this. My parents had 5 kids, so that’s around 30 years of library visits, and a lot of interactive reading.
How old is your daughter now? Is she well on her way to being an avid reader?
She’s going to be 4 in September, and oh yeah. She reads every day. We read at mealtimes, bedtimes, in the morning getting ready for school. We go to the library every week, and she’s on her way to completing two different summer reading programs at two different libraries this year.
What are your current parenting/reading challenges?
I think the biggest one is finding the time. Both my wife and I work full time, and it’s hard to find time to do the interactive reading that’s required. At the end of the book I say this is the only parenting book that will make your life harder, because it gives you more things you should do. It’s challenging to find the time and energy. Time is a really valuable commodity, which is why we read at dinnertime & breakfast.
Another challenge is something Reading Rainbow has helped with: It’s always a tug of war with kids and digital devices. [My daughter] Olive would spend hours & hours on a device if we let her, and there are very few things on devices that encourage her to read. But I can use Reading Rainbow. I can say “You can go on Reading Rainbow and read one book and watch one video.” It’s a compromise for her; she wants to have that viewing experience of watching something, but she also gets the interactive experience. I try when I can to sit and watch the videos or read the books with her, we can still have that interactive experience. And I love to watch those LeVar Burton videos I remember from my own childhood!
My favorite book in Reading Rainbow App is called Metal Man by Aaron Reynolds. I really want to urge parents to check that out. The reading and interactive activity in that book are very strong. Olive and I really enjoy that book. Even once the reading is done it prompts the child to look at the world in a new way. We walk around in the world and talk about the art that’s all around us.
Which books or authors have influenced you?
Oh gosh, as far as children’s literature goes, I loved Nate the Great [by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat], I’ve already shared those with Olive. Then I graduated to The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I recently rediscovered novel adaptations of SciFi movies I loved as a kid: Star Wars, The Black Hole, etc. I had memorized the Star Wars book. My parents said they used that as a party trick, having me recite the Star Wars book. Now my daughter loves Frozen [the recent Disney movie], so I went and found a Golden Book adaptation that was beautiful and very thoughtfully retold. So I was able to give her that experience of turning this movie into something we could read as well.
As readers we naturally want to share our passion with others… If you could pick one book to give away free to strangers on the street, what would it be?
Good question. Let me think about this a minute… The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury, Celebrated Picture Books and Stories to Read Aloud by Janet Schulman. It’s really a very cool book. It has 44 different children’s books in one book. It’s a fabulous introduction. Olive loves flipping through and choosing a book. Then we can go to the library later and pick more books by the same author. The books are a wide range, from books for 1 year olds to older kids. It’s a wonderfully and carefully curated book of Children’s Books.
Jason Boog’s new book, Born Reading, Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age—From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between is published by Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., and is available now in stores and online. For more information about Born Reading, as well as FREE Bonus materials, visit www.born-reading.com.
Jason Boog spent five years as the editor of Mediabistro’s publishing blog, GalleyCat. His writing has appeared at NPR Books, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, Peace Corps Writers, and Salon. www.jasonboog.com (Image credit: Mike Henry)
As the Reading Rainbow Mom, Jenni Buchanan enjoys encouraging readers of ALL ages to believe that they can “go anywhere, be anything.” See more of Jenni’s blogs and tips for parents about children’s reading by subscribing to the Reading Rainbow Blog, or follow her on Twitter.