The Books Briefing: Cultivate a Love of Reading Early On

Educators and parents alike play important roles in developing kids’ appreciation for literature: Your weekly guide to the best in books

A young woman reads a book
Patrick Zachmann / Magnum

This week, kids and teachers across the United States went back to school, after a year and a half of remote learning and Zoom fatigue. This school year is likely to be a mess—again—and among all of the pandemic considerations, teachers are also contending with keeping students engaged in and out of the classroom. Some veteran educators, though, have succeeded at instilling a love of learning in their students, particularly when it comes to reading, and they offer lessons for all teachers struggling to keep kids motivated this year.

Michelle Martin, a professor focusing on children’s library services at the University of Washington, believes that when kids read stories in which they can see or imagine themselves, they become lovers of books. In a field where librarians, teachers, and children’s-book authors are overwhelmingly white, while only half of American children are white, educators teaching books that center protagonists of color is especially important. Deloris Fowler, an elementary-school teacher in Tennessee, found advantages in new educational reforms: A program in which she read aloud to her students about sophisticated topics encouraged them to read more on their own and seek out additional books. And LaQuisha Hall, an educator working with teens in Baltimore, inspired her students to read and write by giving them a purpose—she helped them publish their work, a chance most of her students jumped at.

Although many kids learn to love reading and books at school, parents also have much to contribute. Children who grow up surrounded by books are more likely to be better readers than those who don’t, and parents who demonstrate a pleasure in reading will make the activity seem more appealing. Once kids have developed this interest, the options for what they can do with it are endless. Two teens in Bellevue, Washington, for example, have channeled their affinity for reading into the youth-literacy organization Book the Future, which works to increase accessibility to books. An early love of literature, then, might just give kids the skills they need to help better the world.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.

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What We’re Reading

A collage of photos of Michelle Martin and a book

Michelle Martin / Shutterstock / The Atlantic

Every child can become a lover of books

“[Michelle] Martin thinks it’s important not just to have books that feature people who look and sound like their young readers, but to teach those books, too.”

An illustration of a woman reading to a class

Camilo Huinca

How to show kids the joy of reading

“When the district unveiled yet another new initiative a few years ago, [Deloris] Fowler was skeptical. But, to her surprise, it turned out to be the one that did the best job of achieving what has always been her goal: inspiring a love of reading in her students.”

A book with flowers sticking out of it

Olivia Locher

Teaching Black teens to write the books they read

“What the options [for student publishing] have in common is that they shift the focus from students as passive absorbers of information to students as producers of content and knowledge—and transform the role of school in their lives.”

📚 One Nation, One Heart, compiled by LaQuisha Hall
📚 A City Unspoken: A Dose of Our Reality, compiled by LaQuisha Hall
📚 I Am the C.E.O.: Chief Executive Overcomer, compiled by LaQuisha Hall
📚 See Me With Clarity, compiled by LaQuisha Hall
📚 Becoming a Teacher, by Melinda D. Anderson

A person reading on the grass

Chris J. Ratcliffe / Getty

Why some people become lifelong readers

“There are, as so many parents are all too aware, loads of benefits to being able to read in terms of later-in-life outcomes, but the focus should be on helping kids discover the intrinsic value in it, in the moment. After that, other good things will come.”

An illustration of two girls sitting on a pile of books

Wenjia Tang

A teen-run book charity and the friendship it built

“I could tell that Andrea is the kind of person who puts energy into things not just because she has to do them, but because she wants to do them well. Also, it was really fun to meet someone else who was interested in reading, and who has read similar things.”

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Tori Latham. The book she’s taking notes from is Drop the Ball, by Tiffany Dufu.

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