I’m Erin Dealey, and I write books for kids. I’m a teacher, presenter, rhymer, blogger, and proud Drama Mama.

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Raising Readers –Tips from an editor, an author, and an illustrator

March 4, 2020

If you follow Carol Hinz (@CarolCHinz Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books at Lerner Publishing Group) you know she has tweeted many wonderful stories about her boys READING.

 Author Katey Howes (RISSY NO KISSIES / Lerner 2021; WOVEN OF THE WORLD / Chronicle 2021; MAGNOLIA MUDD /Sterling; and BE A MAKER /Carolrhoda —details here.) has written many insightful #RaisingReaders posts. *See archives over at kateywrites.wordpress.com.

Illustrator Luciana Navarro Powell (EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY ELLA/ Amicus Ink, 2020; TINY BROWN MONKEY ON THE BIG BLUE EARTH / Amicus Ink 2019; GRANDMA’S FAVORITE & GRANDPA’S FAVORITE / Kane Miller/ 2018) often shares her sons’ unbelievable (!) reading positions on Insta at @LucianaIllustration

How on earth have these busy moms

raised such amazing young readers?

What better way to celebrate I-Love-To-Read Month, than to find out?   

READ ON, friends:

Q1. How old was your young reader when you realized he/she was hooked on books?  

Katey: It’s hard for me to put a finger on the moment I realized my 3 kids loved books – in part because I never thought about it being any other way. I grew up bookish in a family that walked to the public library every weekend and brought home literal wagon loads of books, so my kids’ interest in books and reading from babyhood seemed as much a foregone conclusion to me as their love of chocolate chip cookies and mushing around in mud puddles. In fact, it wasn’t until I started blogging in 2013 that I realized that a reading household like ours wasn’t the norm.

One more book!

My kids were 8, 6 and 4, and I was a stay-at-home mom for the first time. The blog was my outlet, and I was writing posts about a variety of topics, trying to figure out what I had to contribute that was unique and helpful to other parents. Anytime I posted about our trips to the library, our afternoons acting out our favorite stories, or the nights I despaired of ever getting to sleep because my kids needed “one more book,” I got drastically increased traffic to my site, and lots of comments and questions. Those reactions helped me recognize that we had something special, and that I could analyze it and share it with other families to help them raise readers, too.

Turning “disaster” to magic.

Carol: I feel like it’s happening before my eyes with my 6-year-old son, who is in first grade. While he’s been read to since he was a baby, he’s just starting to read on his own. It’s interesting because we’d been struggling with a “book in a bag” assignment, in which the teacher selects books that are 8-16 pages and coded with a reading level, which get sent home to give kids extra practice reading. It was a disaster! We spent more time fighting about reading these books than he spent actually reading.

One day I realized that the problem was that he wasn’t engaged by the stories. So just after winter break, I asked his teacher if we could opt out and choose early readers from the library instead. To my great relief, she said yes! And now instead of fighting about reading, my son has started insisting on it. He’s suddenly becoming a much better reader, and it feels like magic to see him excited so about reading on his own!

World Book Day 2019 by Luciana Navarro Powell

Luciana – It was probably when my boys were in early elementary. They were really early readers, my youngest got out of pre-school a reader already. They are now in 5th and 7th grade. I started noticing that we were running out of bookshelf  room rapidly in our house, a great problem to have of course. Library alone wasn’t doing it – and a confession here, I was not organized enough to keep track of all the books around the house and was always paying late fees. We started to buy a lot of books as well and those teeny book shelves from their toddler years just weren’t enough.

Q2. Please share more tips or insights as to how your kids got hooked on reading. 

“Let them pick and choose when, WHERE and what to read.”

Katey: I maintain that children are great big copycats – and that modeling behaviors is one of the best ways to influence them. My best advice is to not only read to and with your kids, but to read in front of them – for pleasure, for information, for any reason at all. My second best advice is to make reading a choice and not a chore – keep a variety of reading material readily available, and let them pick and choose when, where and what to read (or to have read to them.)

Carol: Since I work full time and there are only so many hours in the evening before bedtime, I’ve found it helps to be a bit creative and flexible about how reading happens. So rather than cuddling together every night on the couch to read books, sometimes I read to my 6yo while he eats his snack. Sometimes it’s while he’s in the bath. Some nights he draws while I read to him. It felt like a great discovery when I realized I there wasn’t one “right” way to do bedtime reading. 

My other tip dovetails with Katey’s–keep a variety of reading material on hand and don’t box kids in. Especially in early elementary school, it’s amazing what a range of topics kids are drawn to. When my older son was 5 or 6 I realized I was checking out a lot of picture books from the library with male protagonists. Once I got over my horror at this realization, I started checking out a wider variety of books, and he took just as much interest in them as he had in any other type of books.

Luciana – I agree with Carol and Katey’s answer. In our case, because I’ve been illustrating books before they were born, I had a full collection of picture books already once they reached that age. Another factor in my family is that we are avid outdoorsy people, so we’ve been taking the boys backpacking ever since they were really young. No electronics are allowed in the car, even now that they are older.

There is always a pile of books in the middle seat. Reading in the car is not for everyone, but thankfully my guys don’t get sick. We’ve done epic 12-hour drives with them reading almost the whole time. When they start to get shifty, we ask them to read out loud to us from one of their “Candy Books” (Wimpy Kid, Timmy Failure) They take turns reading to us and enjoy immensely when we burst out laughing, because that’s the beauty of candy books – they are hilarious!

Flip their reading: “Re-Tell us a story!”

Another way we foster reading is during long hikes. I’m talking about all day long hikes. When they start complaining we ask them to re-tell us recent books they’ve read. It is a thing of wonder, it works every single time. Now my youngest will just start on his own, telling us about different subject matters that interest him. On the last hike we took, it was the series of events that led to WWI. He talked non-stop for an hour and a half. In another hike about 2 years ago they were really into the Apollo missions, and would take turns in telling details about every Apollo mission until the program was shut down.Needless to say my husband and I learn a lot when we hike with them these days!

Q3. I confess wasn’t a voracious reader as a child, thus I’m wondering–were you? 

Katey: I was a big reader all through childhood. I was a very anxious kid, and books were an amazing escape, a safe place to explore, and a good way to learn how to navigate emotions, friendships, and challenges. In fact, they still serve all those purposes for me as a (somewhat less anxious) adult.

Carol: I was a big reader as well. If I was reading instead of doing something else I was supposed to (such as Saturday morning chores), my parents would threaten to take my book away! My older son enjoys reading but not quite in the way that I did, and sometimes I have to remind myself that just because he’s not at my level of obsession with books, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy reading.

Carol’s oldest with his cousin. Reading to others is fun too!

Luciana – I was a big reader too and have great memories of my mom taking us to the library every week. I grew up in Brazil and the publishing industry there doesn’t even come close to the breadth and richness of the industry in the US, specially children’s literature. It is slowly improving but books in Brazil are extremely expensive, sadly, and libraries are not as numerous as they are here. I moved to the US as an adult. The more involved I got with the picture book world, the more I wished I had had the access that children – and adults! – have here in the states.

The Illustrator, Luciana, and one of her Readers–at work…

Endless thanks to Carol Hinz, Katey Howes, and Luciana Navarro Powell for sharing their tips and wonderful photos. Here’s an idea–let’s READ THEIR BOOKS! You can learn more about the fabulous work of these three #kidlit women by clicking the links in their names above, or following them on social media.



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