Tomorrow Is National Bookstore Day!

Celebrate by taking your kids to an Indie

(Hi!  How is everybody?  I’ve completely neglected this blog for a while.  My only excuse is that I’ve been kind of busy.  Really busy.  Going frackin’ out of my mind busy.  This post is actually borrowed from my other blog.  Remember: even though I’m a bad neglectful blogger, I’ll still answer any emails you send to me. xoc)

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher at my kids’ school stopped me and asked me if I had any advice on getting kids to read. He’d noticed that my kids (or at least my two younger ones, both of whom he’d taught) are voracious readers and he was wondering if I had done anything specific to nurture that. I was touched and honored a teacher was consulting me and, as always when I feel especially eager to say something helpful, my mind went completely blank and I couldn’t think of a single useful thing to say.

I ended up muttering something about how I stopped reading out loud to my kids as soon as they could read to themselves and maybe that had something to do with it?

He reacted to that useless bit of information as politely as anyone could, thanked me (lord knows what for) and went on his way.

A little while later, I had one of those hit-your-forehead-with-your-hand moments of frustration. Why hadn’t I mentioned the importance of bookstores in our lives when my kids were little? That was probably much more of a link to their love of reading than my bedtime neglect which, let’s face it, is more of a link to my laziness and selfishness than anything positive.

Here’s the thing: when my kids were little–like “what the hell do I do with these small foreign creatures?” little–I was always, and I do mean always–taking them to bookstores to pass the time. We occasionally went to toy stores too but those weren’t nearly as satisfying to me, since toy stores don’t have much for us adults but bookstores do.

For a few years, my oldest son had a weekly appointment in Westwood. There was a large bookstore within a block or so of his destination, so I would take the other three kids, drop him off, and–rather than fight traffic back and forth–spend the time in the kids’ section of the bookstore, reading new picture books, playing little games, and sometimes making new friends since I wasn’t the only mother of young children desperate to survive a long afternoon.

On a good day, I could leave the older two to watch each other while I dragged the youngest one to the adult section and wheedled enough time out of him to pick out a bunch of books for me to leaf through once we had returned to the primary colors and tiny tables of the children’s area. Or I’d quickly grab some magazines from the rack–the distracted mother’s path to escapism.

My sister told me once that she had a friend who had a rule when she was out with her kids: she wouldn’t buy them any toys, but she would buy them any book they asked for. We never had quite so hard-and-fast a rule about either (my daughter decided at a very early age that rules were made so you could argue adults into breaking them, so I tried to keep them to the strictly necessary) but, in general, if one of my kids really wanted a book, and it was the kind of book I approved of, I’d buy it.

I was especially willing to buy chapter books when they were first starting to read those, even Captain Underpants–although its status as a chapter book is debatable. Still, if it meant my kids were going to curl up with the book once we were home, it was probably worth a few bucks to me.

Now that my kids range in age from big boy to young adult, I still like going with them to bookstores and I’m still willing to buy them quite a few books, although now I urge them to check the library first or see if they can borrow from a friend. I will admit that it’s easier to justify paying for books when you yourself are a book author–all I have to do when I’m on the fence is think about how much I like it when people purchase one of my novels, and my wallet’s out.

My approval still matters–at least when it comes to paying. If I don’t approve of a book, I won’t pay for it. Most of the time, though, I’ll let my kid buy these books with her own money. (And I say “her” deliberately–this issue only seems to come up with my daughter, not my sons.) It’s rare for me to forbid a book completely, partially because my kids are very good at deciding books are too grown-up for them anyway–for instance, my daughter will immediately stop reading if she encounters “certain” words.

On the other hand, I do let her read stuff that is pure and total junk. I know people who don’t agree with this philosophy. There was a bit of a “thing” at school one year because a bunch of the girls were reading books about characters who were greedy and malicious and unpleasant and the teachers were concerned that the girls would start apeing those behaviors.

But the more I talked to women I respected, the more everyone admitted to me that she had read some pretty junky fiction in her youth (and sometimes even now). The loveliest woman I know confessed to a previous Jackie Collins addiction. I myself read and reread Gone with the Wind countless times from the ages of 8 to 15 and even though Scarlett lied and schemed and was all in favor of slavery, I emerged from that experience relatively unscathed and can safely reassure everyone that I am no Scarlett O’Hara.

I’ve gotten a little off point here, so to recap:

Bookstores: good.

Taking kids to bookstores: wonderful.

Reading: good.

Reading good books: fantastic.

Reading bad books: okay.

Buying books at your local Indie for your loved ones: very very good.

Getting a free moment to yourself when your kids are reading: priceless.


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