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Getting Kids Hooked on Books

Getting Kids Hooked on Books

As a kid, I loved summer reading. Once school ended, I couldn’t wait to get my summer reading card at our public library and start checking out books! I had many a summer adventure, from long walks “deep in the 100 Aker Wood” to following wild horses on the wind-swept sands of Chincoteague Island, to solving mysteries with Trixie Belden in Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson, NY, to adventures in Narnia – and many, many more.

Summer reading is so important for kids, and it is not all about keeping their reading skills up over the school break. Though that exercise is critical to their continued academic success, summer reading accomplishes something else just as important; it engages young minds in the fun of reading about things that interest them. It builds lifelong readers.

With many kids more interested in active play than in sitting and reading a book, you can combine the two while encouraging creative play. You can help kids to explore beyond the stories they read or hear. Many of the famous characters in children’s books are marketed as toys, which can stimulate a lot of storytelling among children who love to roleplay. These toys can be expensive, however, and this is where homemade puppets can be useful.

Puppets can be made from very inexpensive materials. For how-to videos on creating puppets out of all kinds out of common everyday materials, look for The Everyman Puppet Theatre on YouTube. Kids can make character puppets, then use them to either recreate the story in books they just read, or they can create new stories using the same characters and settings. They might even create new characters to add to a story…the storytelling possibilities are endless.

Last year at the Poplarville Blueberry Festival, I participated with a group of local storytellers. I did not read my children’s book – “The Fuzzy Forever Friend” – but I did tell a new story about the origins of the warm fuzzy friends. I had one of my warm fuzzy puppets with me, which led to one particularly meaningful interaction with a little boy in the audience. He would not pet the fuzzy – I am fairly certain he suspected it was alive and might bite – but he was fascinated by that little scrap of fuzzy fabric with its shaved face and two google eyes. It seemed to bring the story alive for him. It takes only movement to turn a simple craft project into a puppet, and it only takes imagination to build a story from there.

Reading is where the imagination can start. The trick is learning what really interests a certain kid, then finding a well-written book that engages that interest. Once that happens, once a kid learns reading can be fun, she will be hooked and on her way to becoming a lifelong reader. 

What’s more, summer reading – so distinctive from reading those tiresome books kids are required to read in school – can give kids the chance to read books they really want to read…and they get caught up in the adventure.

Laura Anne Ewald is an author and public speaker from Picayune, Mississippi.

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