Q&A Patrons Ask: Do I have to read to my baby?

Q: I'ma keep it 100%.  I love my baby, but I really don't want to read to her every night at bedtime. And I don't want to feel pressured and called a bad parent! 

A:  I'm a momma too, so I got you. I'd never call anyone a bad parent. I understand all the well-meaning advice about what you "should be" doing with your children and how to "do it right" is unwelcome and unnecessary.  That's why I'm not gonna add to it – much. 

Reading to your baby is very important, we all know that. So as a professional I can't say “don’t read to your child."  But I will say, reading is supposed to be a fun way to bond with your child. In short, your baby needs words, not a nightly ritual you dread. So if you don't want to read tonight don't stress about it; sing to her. If you don't want to sing, play with her. If you don't want to play, talk to her.  Talking, reading, and singing are all equally important for your child's language and vocabulary development. But I am a children's librarian, and I promote reading to children, so you know I can't let this post be published without at least one book recommendation right?  I'll recommend my oldest son's favorite book: 

I love read this story because it's short; and gives me encouraging words when I am tired and reading to my boys feels like one more chore to complete.  I hope you find the words encouraging as well.

Read To Your Bunny, written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Photographs of families in the Eastmont Branch, and a few shameless photos of my own family.

Read to your bunny often

It's 20 minutes of fun


It's 20 minutes of moonlight

It's 20 minutes of sun

It's 20 old favorite minutes

It's 20 minutes brand new


Read to your bunny often and

Your bunny will read to you.

I'll admit I don't follow the recommended time of 20 minutes at home.   I don't bother to watch the clock, I just read a story. If the book takes 5 minutes I read for 5 minutes. Some of your babies favorite books will take less than 5 minutes to read aloud.  Don't feel pressured to read for a set amount of time.  And sometimes, when I am really pressed for time, I just put a bunch of books on the floor and let the boys "read" to themselves. (touching books counts)

Hey mom, I get it. I'm busy, you're busy,  who has time sit down and to read to babies? Well if you wait for that perfect television inspired moment with the kids all snuggly in the pajamas in their bed you will never have time to read with them. So look for unconventional moments to read to your baby.  For example: when my boys where younger I'd read to them while they played in the bathtub. Multitasking at its finest!

Now, I read paperback romance novels out loud to my one year old and library textbooks to my cat (fur babies count right?)

Why?  My baby doesn't care what I read to him. As long as I am engaging with him he's happy; and I need adult level reading in my life!  A bonus, he falls asleep on my lap while I am reading him a story I enjoy.

So relax and have fun with your baby as you talk, read, play and sing to her. Don't stress over what you "should be" doing, and please don't feel pressured to "do it right." As they say "just do you Boo."  You and your baby will be just fine. BTW: I think you are an awesome parent!  

Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Feelings About Starting School

Q: School is starting in a few days...we’re excited and anxious – both!  Do you have any book suggestions to calm our anxieties? 

Poster from the movie Inside OutA: It sounds like today you’re looking for ideas about the emotions you & your child are feeling, rather than the facts of what will happen the first week of school.  You can read about either, or both…This time of year gives parents and children a great opportunity to practice recognizing your own & others’ feelings, identifying them, expressing them, and responding to them. 

When children read books or watch movies that have any emotional content, they learn about those emotions. Even if it's just one feeling, they learn how to identify it, express it, and some possible ways to respond to it. Even if the characters in the story respond badly, children can learn what not to do! 

Cover of CD Free to Be You & MeEducators and psychologists expressed enthusiasm for the movie Inside Out - not solely for its entertainment value, but as a tool to explain how human being process emotions. Younger children might still like to listen to Rosey Grier singing It's Alright to Cry - from the early 1970s! - or the whole album 

Like any life transition, starting school can bring up strong emotions. Helping your child understand her thoughts and feelings -- and explore the thoughts and feelings of others -- helps her grow and understand. Reading books together gives you a way to start a conversation and find out how you can support your child.

Children each have their own point of view, and their own inner thoughts to sift through. The themes within back-to-school stories often include important life lessons about some or all of the following:

    • Being a friend
    • Getting along with new peoplebook cover of How to be a friend
    • Accepting differences
    • Mending relationships with difficult people
    • Protecting yourself from dangerous people
    • Calming general anxiety
    • Conquering specific fears
    • Facing new situations
    • Accepting separation from loved ones
    • Celebrating accomplishments (your own & others')


  • Being ready for and open to learning 

So, here are my updated lists of school stories, categorized roughly by the level of school your child is attending. You can print a list in order by author to make it easy to find, or come in and ask one of us to help you find the right book for your family: 

cover of book Feelings by Aliki       Preschool  cover of A Kiss Means I Love You


       Elementary School  

       Middle School     

Even if the book you read together doesn’t match your own thoughts and feelings, it could spark a discussion that helps clarify your observations, or helps your child relate to the other students she meets. The most important thing is to make time to talk to and listen to your child. 

In the Comments below, would you share your feelings about the First Day of School – one you remember, or one you anticipate?  And if you have a question you'd like us to address, click on the button: 

                                                    Click here to submit a question for our blog.

Q&A: Patrons Ask; Librarians Answer. How do you know if a person is cheating on the Summer Reading Challenge?

Q: How do you know if a person is just cheating by filling in all the stickers but not reading?A volunteer (unnamed) looking sneaky with her reading log.

A: We don’t know!

Of the approximately 500 kids who have signed up for the Summer Reading Challenge at my branch library, only 3 have had the audacity to ask this question.

However, at the beginning of June, when I visited classrooms at a number of Oakland Public Schools (all the children's librarians do this every May & June) to tell kids about the Summer Reading Program, another dozen kids asked the same question. At every school, there is always at least one person, usually in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade, who asks me, "What if someone cheats and fills in all the stickers without reading anything at all?"

So I've answered this question a LOT. Here is what I say:

Bookshelves at Oakland LibraryWe use the honor system, which means we trust you to read a little every day (we count days; not time, not books). We are confident that it's more fun to read something than it is to lie about it and then skulk around feeling like a cheater. 

However, if you are one of the people who can't find anything you want to read for 15 (or even 5) minutes a day, you need to come talk to me!  We have over 30,000 kids books at my branch alone, and it's my job to find the 1 book you really, really, really want to read this summer. (Maybe that is why we call it the Summer Reading Challenge!)

Everyone needs help finding the right book sometimes. If you haven't yet found the book that makes you want to read, it's could be because you haven't yet asked your librarian for help. Come talk to me, and I will do everything I can to find the best book - the greatest book - the most fantastic book for you! 

You know what else? This is your summer vacation! We want you to be able to relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy yourself. You get to pick whatever you want to read, so the 15 minutes a day should be 15 minutes that please you. If you hate fiction, pick up some non-fiction. If you had a bad experience with a fantasy that all your friends loved, try some science fiction, or a mystery. If you are sick and tired of comic books, read some history - or vice-versa!

If we can't find a book that looks like fun for you to read, then probably what we need to do is find a book that looks like fun to hear read aloud. (I wish we had 20 copies of The True Meaning of Smekday - a patron recommended it to me and it's the best.) It's my opinion that kids who don't like to read should sit back, close their eyes, and listen to a wonderful story reader. Usually, it's your mom or dad, a grandparent, or a sibling. If they are all busy, then there are professional story readers who make recorded books that you can listen to on CDs or as downloadable audiobooks.

I'm not worried about you cheating, but it will break my heart if I missed the chance to help you find a good book.

If your librarian never seems to be available when you come to the library (waiting in line is SO hard for kids), try our new online service called Book Me! to ask for help finding a book, or call your local branch library to find the best time to ask for personalized help.

As always, if you have a comment, leave it below, and if you have a question you'd like us to answer online, click the button below.

Button; Ask Your Question here

Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: How old do you have to be to get a library card?

Q: How old do you have to be to get a library card?

A: Five years old, or in Kindergarten.

Chloe (age 5): [beaming at her mom] I am five!

Librarian: Great! You can get your first card today! You can fill out the registration form on paper, or online, at the computer right next to the desk or at home.

Mom: Should we do it right now?

Chloe: Yes! Let's use the computer! Can I help you type?

Mom: Sure!

[After some interruptions from little brother, Leo, who just turned 3, they have completed the form, visited the Circulation Desk to get the card, and had a discussion about whether it would be better to put the "Now I have a library card" sticker on her shirt now, so her friend could see it, or tomorrow, so her friend AND her teacher could see it. Chloe couldn't decide, so she tucked it into her new blue wallet (comes with the card) to decide later.]

Mom: What book do you want to check out on your new card?

Chloe: Do they have more Charlie & Lola books? 

Librarian: We might, let's look! ... Here's a list of all the Charlie & Lola books that you can get at Oakland Libraries. [Everyone crowds around the computer screen, while the librarian reads the titles aloud.] Which ones do you want to read? 

Chloe: I want to read Snow is my favorite! 

Librarian: Okay. That one isn't here today, but we can put a hold on it for you so you can pick it up here next week. In the meantime, let's see which ones are here today for you to take home right away.

[There are 3, but she has read one of them already, so she takes the other two. Leo gets excited about a Dora book, and a few items from the Picture Book Non-Fiction section are tossed in Mom's bag - a book about dogs and a book about creatures in the garden, along with a number of other picture books and a few beginning readers. Finally, the family comes back to the desk.]

Mom: Are there any other books about getting a library card, or libraries in general?

Librarian: There are a few, let's see... [Again, we crowd around to see the list of titles. There are a lot! They decide to look for a few of them, and we jot down the authors of the picture books and the readers. The librarian shows them the shelves where they are kept.] If you can't find any of these, come get me, and I'll help you track them down. Don't forget to come back to put a hold on that one book!


[Again the family comes back to the desk.]

Librarian: Okay, so we're going to place a hold on a Charlie & Lola book, which will get here in a week.  

[After some discussion, Chloe generously offers to check out books for her little brother on her new card.]

Librarian: That is very kind of you!  How about today, you pick out two books for yourself on your brand-new card, and Mom will check out the other books for herself and for your brother. Then in 3 weeks your books will be due. After you return them, you can check out up to 40 items, and some of them can be for your brother.

Chloe: Okay. [She shrugs.] Wait, did you say FORTY BOOKS?  [Mom & the Librarian nod YES.]

Librarian, to Leo: Your sister got a sticker today with her new library card. Would you like your own sticker?

[Leo sorts through all the stickers in the box, and picks out a Dora sticker. He immediately puts it on his shirt. The family then settles in with some coloring sheets, and Chloe happily gives the librarian any markers that have run out of ink. This is an important job that young people often help accomplish at our branch.]

Librarian: By the way...Did you know this week is National Library Week?

Mom: We did not know that! That's pretty special!

Librarian: I'm curious; What made you decide to get a library card today?

Chloe: I was talking about library things and mommy said, "Speaking of the library, I think you could get a library card now."

Librarian: I'm so glad you came in today!  See you again soon.

And speaking of library things; Did you know...

...There are about 3,500 Kindergarten-age children in Oakland who have a library card!

...Oakland Public Library issued first library cards to 6,764 children (people under age 13) in the past year!

...A total of 35,000 children (people under age 13) currently have an active Oakland Public Library card.

If you don't yet have your own library card, click here, or come talk to us. Whether you paid taxes or got a refund this year, library workers appreciate your participation in the economy, and want to reciprocate by providing you with the best service, all throughout the year.

As usual, we'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment below, or ask us your question in person, or online.

Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Antidotes to teen romances for my precocious pre-teen?

Q: My daughter is in 6th grade, and she’s an avid reader. She’s choosing teen stories that seem to actually be romances - vampires, warriors, rebels, detectives - they all seem to focus on the love interest in the end! I feel Twilight is one of the books the 6th-grader had it might be influencing her behavior toward the boys in her school - in a way that to me seems vulnerable. Do you have any good stories about strong female characters without the romance? Akata Witch - See below for details.

A: As your child continues to develop her individual identity, it would be nice to have a steady supply of role models in literature that show a variety. We can find plenty!

As to her current reading choices; while romance is a real option for older teens, if younger people believe they should emulate it before they actually feel it from within, it could get confusing for them.

You could talk to her to figure out what those romantic scenarios mean to her - at her age, she may be very interested in them, or she may be skimming those parts. Aim to keep the lines of communication open in both directions. She is still at the age where your opinion matters, and she may have questions for you if she can trust you to be open and nonjudgmental.

Sabriel - see details below!In any case, it is best to not interfere with your child’s reading choices. Those books are not going to damage her, and as much influence as they have, her family, her friends, and all the other books in the world have just as much or possibly more.

So...your idea is perfect; have a couple of books on hand every time she finishes another one of those racy novels. Here are some ideas - these are stories that stay in the social & emotional world of middle school kids ages 10 to 13, have strong, self-aware, individuated female characters who focus on their mission, their interests, and their own strengths, and don’t chuck it all for the hot guy in the end.

Fantasy & Magic 

Kat, Incorrigible (Burgis), Princess Curse (Haskell), Howls Moving Castle (Jones), Kiki's Delivery Service (Kadono), Tale of Two Castles (Levine), Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Lin), Princess Ben (Murdock), Sabriel (Nix), Akata Witch (Okorafor), Wee Free Men (Pratchett), Golden Compass (Pullman), Thickety (White);  

Kat, IncorrigiblePrincess CurseHowl's Moving Castle - also a great Miyazaki movie!Kiki's Delivery Service Tale of Two CastlesWhere the Mountain Meets the MoonPrincess Ben Sabriel (First in Abhorsen series) Akata WitchWee Free Men (first in series of 4 books)Golden Compass (first book in His Dark Materials)Thickety

Science Fiction

Search for Wond-La (Diterlizzi), City of Ember (DuPrau), Skyjumpers (Eddleman), Wrinkle In Time (L'engle), True Meaning Of Smekday (Rex), When You Reach Me (Stead);

Search for Wond-LaCity of EmberSky JumpersWrinkle in TimeTrue Meaning of SmekdayWhen You Reach Me

 Realistic Fiction

Breadwinner (Ellis), Mare's War (Davis), Lady Grace Mysteries (Finney, aka Cavendish), Harriet The Spy (Fitzhugh), Journey to the River Sea (Ibbotson), Thing About Luck (Kadohata), From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler (Konigsburg), Wild Girls (Murphy), Wonderstruck (Selznick), Counting By 7s (Sloan), At The Sign Of The Star (Sturtevant) Revolution (Wiles);

Breadwinner (first in series)Mare's WarLady Grace Mysteries (Assassin & Betrayal, bks 1 & 2)Harriet the Spy - see other editions tooJourney to the River Sea The Thing about LuckFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerWild Girls WonderstruckCounting by 7sAt the Sign of the StarRevolution 

Each of these books is a favorite of mine for a different reason. (Okay, there are 2 on these lists I haven't read, but I have on good authority they are worth reading...) Your daughter won’t like every one of them, so please ask us how to narrow it down. If you click on the book cover, you can see if the book is in the library today, and place a hold if you like.


Oakland Public Library Children's Librarians will answer questions on  this blog the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month. We'd love to hear your ideas and feedback in our comments (below).  We also would love to answer YOUR question! Click here:   

Click here to submit a question!

Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Do you have books that explain about the birds & the bees?

Shocked dadQ: My eight-year-old son is asking me about how babies are made. I gave him a short-version answer, and now he has a lot more questions. I'm realizing that my older daughter (now 12) probably had a lot of questions she didn't ask out loud when I gave her the simple answers a few years ago. What books do you have for both of them?

It's Perfectly Normal - a book cover.

A: We have plenty of books on this topic for different ages. You will find it much easier to answer your children's questions with the help of some well-chosen books! Whether you read a book aloud to a younger child, give one to an older child to read herself, or simply read one yourself to get ideas of the best ways to respond to their questions, having some published information will help you teach your children about human development and reproduction.

Cover of a COMPLETELY inappropriate book for this blog post.You may not agree with every statement in all of these books – each family has their own set of values and perspectives. However, these books represent ideas that exist in the world, so responding to them either with agreement or disagreement will clarify for your children what you believe and what your expectations are for them, while at the same time sharing essential information they need to know.

Here are some books for kids to read on their own, or for you to read aloud to them:

    Sorry, this book (Asking about sex & growing up) is no longer available at the Oakland Library.              

As you can see, they range from those books that simply explain how babies are made to those that explain what changes a body goes through that enable people to have babies! Those questions come up more as a child grows.

Here are some books written for adults that give tips for talking about reproduction and sexuality, and about setting boundaries as they grow up:

Children of every age have questions, and it's never to early to present an age-appropriate answer to any question they have. (See the blog post from last month for books about how babies are made that are best for preschool-age kids.) If your kids see you as a neutral and reliable source of information, you will have the basis for continuing communication as they become teenagers.

We'd love to answer your question next! We assure confidentiality. Oakland Public Library Children's Librarians answer your questions on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month.   

Button to push to submit a question!

Parenting a Baby Part 2: Parenting Collections @ OPL

Is your baby having trouble sleeping through the night?  Is breastfeeding not going well?  How and when do you introduce food to babies?  What are the appropriate developmental stages babies go through and when should babies go through them?  Can babies learn sign language?  And, of course, a topic close to my heart, how do you read to a baby?

Raising a baby is hard work and we are here to help.  Last month I highlighted  some of the programs we offer babies and their families.  This month, we look at some of the materials we offer.  All of Oakland's libraries have parenting books, magazines and DVDs that can help you figure out how to best care for a baby and answer any questions you might have.  In fact, we have parenting materials for all ages of children and all kinds of families.   Just go to our home page at and key in your search topic or ask a librararian for help.

Here are some of our favorite parenting books about babies.  What are some of yours?

Book Cover

      Book Cover     Book Cover   

 Book Cover     Book Cover     

The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep /Harvey Karp

Feeding the Whole Family/Cynthia Lair

The Nursing Mother's Companion/Kathleen Huggins

The Read Aloud Handbook/Jim Trelease

What to Expect the First Year/ Heidi Murkoff et al.

My First Signs/Annie Kubler

Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Can picture books fix my kid’s behavior problems?

Q: Is there a Berenstain Bears book about not biting people? My daughter has been biting other kids at preschool. Her teachers say it’s getting worse! Is there a book I could read to her showing how wrong this is?

A: Yes! Your question is a profound one. Children’s authors, publishers, teachers, parents, therapists, and children themselves have been seeing books as bibliotherapy for generations. As a result, there are a variety of books both silly and profound that could help in this siNo More Biting for Billy Goattuation. How can bibliotherapy help?Among other things, kids realize...

  • It's okay to have feelings

  • It's okay to talk about it

  • Other people have faced similar problems

  • There are different solutions available

  • Kids can solve problems 

So, where to start? The easy answer is to look up your preschooler’s particular issue in our online catalog. (...type in biting – or any other behavioral issue – and limit to children's books.) If nothing comes up, we'd take a look at A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children’s Picture Books. It has picture books indexed under 1,215 subjects, including 53 different behaviors, from “animals, dislike of” to “worrying,” although, biting is not there – but we can look through the 35 books about “fighting.” A cool online resourcehas a few more titles. The Berenstain Bears books often have a clear behavioral message, and kids like to hear stories about characters they know and love. Since there isn’t one on biting, you might take a look at this one; The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Friends

Berenstain Bears & the Trouble with Friends

I am often asked for books to help a child overcome a particular problem – biting, hitting, whining, lying, stealing, teasing or bullying others, fears, sucking her thumb, screaming or throwing tantrums, etc. Practically every kid does something, sometime! misbehavior a universal experience?

When I was a new parent, I read several parenting books that put forward the view that all children's negative behavior is an attempt to communicate. (Like the 3 below.) These authors proposed that when the behavior annoys, angers, scares, or hurts others, it's very likely an indication that the child has some strong or negative feelings. Therefore, the solution – to all irksome behavior – is to teach the child how to effectively communicate negative feelings & whatever caused them.


An adult who spends a lot of time with a child teaches this vocabulary simply by saying aloud what they observe and guess about the child's feelings – but some things just don’t come up until a moment when the parent isn't there to interpret.

Books provide extra scenarios to absorb or to discuss feelings – the characters’, your own, and your child’s – so you don't have to wait for something to surprise you. Any book that shows characters having any feelings can start a conversation. The language of feelings is complex and may take a lifetime to fully explore. Here are my favorite books on the general topic of expressing feelings, in order from those for the youngest kids (2 years) to the oldest (about 9+ years):


In addition, the popularity of some rather uncomfortable books illustrates how negative feelings are human and common– it really is a comfort when someone else (even a character in a book) struggles through similar feelings. Here are a few that are wonderful to read to a child. They convey that you will love her and take care of her, even when she has so-called bad feelings, and even when she makes mistakes:


All these books (and many others on unrelated topics) show characters feeling something and being heard – by the reader if not by the other characters in the story!

You may not need a book about a biter, a hitter, a screamer, a liar, a thief, or a tantrum thrower. Children's books, by providing a wide range of situations and responses, build the child's repertoire of familiar life experiences. Each book, on any topic, can build understanding, empathy, and self-awareness, and allow your child to witness or imagine possible responses.


Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Or, occasionally – Young patrons gawp; librarians guess.

Q: My child is too shy to ask questions. I want him to be confident, and to ask for what he needs. How do I get him to ask you questions himself? Graphic from the ALA; National Library Week Logo - Lives change @ your library

A: Yes, it's our job – parents, caregivers, and librarians, working together – to model the interactions that we'd like young people to conduct independently someday. Your child is learning a million tiny things by simply observing you as you conduct yourself daily. With very little conscious effort, he's learning by watching what you do.

When you bring a young person to the library, show him (you may not need to tell him) how you wait your turn, make a friendly greeting, ask a question, clarify if we're on the right track or not, and thank the staff person for the help you received.

Once your child has observed this several times, pick an unhurried day and ask him if he's ready to try it on his own. Some kids are bold and need very little prompting. Others want to know it will go smoothly before they even try. Many kids start, and then get stuck and need a little help. Eventually, we learn to speak up on our own behalf.

The interaction below is NOT ideal! Sometimes the librarian has a line of people waiting. However, I'm sharing it because it illustrates something not everyone realizes: The librarian is friendly. She or he is going to do whatever she or he can to get what information or reading material you need or want.

You can play “library” at home or in the car, and pretend/practice the question-and-answer process. Then come by and give it a try. We love talking to kids about what they're reading and helping them find information.

One afternoon at the library:

A mother and her son enter the library, and walk toward the Children's Reference Desk. They wait for the person ahead of them in line to finish, and then approach the Children's Librarian.

MOM (to Librarian): Hello! We'd like a little help.

MOM (to child): Tell the librarian what you need.

KID: No, you tell her.

MOM: No, go on. You tell her!

KID: No, no, no. I won't. You have to.

MOM: Go ahead and ask your question. Look, it's your turn now.

KID: You ask her!

Librarian: Okay, okay, I'll ask you!

(Kid is surprised & looks directly at Librarian for the first time)

Librarian: Okay, let's see...You have a question, right?

KID: (quietly) Yes.

Librarian: Let me see...Do you need something at the library?

KID: Yes.

Librarian: Okay, I'm going to guess. Is it a book?

KID: Yes!

Librarian: Okay, a book. That's good. We have lots of books. Hmm...Is this a book for your own fun, or is this for a school assignment?

KID: For school.

Librarian: Okay, for school. ...and what grade are you in?

KID: First.

Librarian: Okay, a book for a school assignment for first grade. That narrows it down....but I need more information. Are you going to tell me, or should I guess?

KID: You guess!

Librarian: Okay (rubbing my face, thinking...) ...Does this assignment have to do with the Phases of the Moon?

KID: No!

MOM: Just tell her, don't make her guess!

KID: (looking at her like she is crazy, because obviously this could be fun)

Librarian: ...Is the assignment about an Animal?

KID: No!

Librarian: Ummm...Is the assignment about...The Revolutionary War?

KID: No!

Librarian: I could really use a clue here...Do you want to tell me what you need a book about?

KID: Keep guessing!

MOM: ...but it does have something to do with history...!

Librarian: Oh, good, I needed a clue!  So, it's about history...Is the assignment about World history, or United States history?

KID: The United States!

Librarian: Great! We are really narrowing it down...Are you looking for a book about the history of a person or a place or a time period?

KID: It's a report about a place.  I Heart My Library buttons

Librarian: All right, now we're cooking! I wonder if it is about a state?

KID: Yes, it is about a state!

Librarian: All it California, by any chance?

KID: No, that's my friend's state!

Librarian:  Oh, no! You are not going to make me guess every single state are you?

KID: (gleefully) Yes!!!

Librarian: ...Wait a minute, I think we are close enough already...(getting up from desk, walking past them)...Follow me! We're going to figure this out!

KID: (looks up at his mom with wide open eyes)

MOM: Let's follow her!

Librarian: Right over here...these shelves right here have all the books on the United States, one state at a time. Starting with the north-east, going to the south-east, then the mid-west, then the south, then the west...Hmmmm...Which state could it be?

MOM: I see it!!!

KID: Where?!?!

MOM: (Mom craftily plays both sides of the game...the knowing and the not-knowing side...)  What letter does it start with?

KID: It starts with a "V".

...He's looking...The adults are waiting...It doesn't take long...

KID: Here it is! I found it!

Librarian: Aha, it was Virginia! And it looks like we have more than one book.  I'm so glad you found something. Go ahead and take them all off the shelf, and open them up. We have books for different reading levels, so you'll want to pick the one that is just right for you.

MOM: (to Librarian) Thank you so much.  (to her son) Say thanks!

KID: My grandma & grandpa are in Virginia.

Librarian: You're welcome. (His look of astounded satisfaction is a sufficient expression of gratitude.)


I'm sure he and I will have another opportunity to practice the Q&A process. People who know how to ask librarians for help get a lot more out of their tax dollars. It's National Library Week. Practice asking your librarian a question today!

 Virginia from the OPL Catalog

Q&A Patrons ask; librarians answer. Killjoys: Judgment, Shame, & Frustration (Reluctant Readers, part 3)

Q: I'm ready for him to move on! My son has been reading Garfield books forever! (or Junie B. Jones, Captain Underpants, Rainbow Magic, Geronimo Stilton, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or endless hours of comics.) Isn't it time for him to read harder books? Old illustration of baby getting thrown out with bathwater

A: Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. While those books may seem as worthless as old bathwater; repetitive, stale, and stagnant to you, in fact re-reading or reading formulaic writing builds fluency and increases comprehension – but the baby in this metaphor is your son's fledging motivation. In your efforts to dump those stale books, make sure you're not dumping something much more valuable and significant: his sense of autonomy, confidence, and inspiration. 

How can all those positive feelings come from reading formulaic writing? Well, let me ask you: Was your son eager to get another book in the series? Did he focus on it to the exclusion of other activities? Was he so enthralled by it, he recounted the whole story to you? Did he beam at you with the next volume in his hand? Well – You can't separate his enthusiasm, focus, and spontaneous memorization from the qualities of the particular books he chooses. However, you seem to have an avid reader on your hands, so your work here may be done! He is building neural pathways that connect the activity of reading with feelings of joy. Brain research confirms that Aristotle was right when he wrote “We are what we repeatedly do.” Adult avid readers confirm that they built their own habit of reading with practically any content – pulp fiction, comics, magazines, or whatever else might have motivated them when they were young. (See this study for the science behind building positive habits.)

So, do not get all boy reading mangacontrol-freakish at this point. How you handle your frustration with his reading choices matters. Don't battle over this. If his reading choice seems too easy, too obnoxious, poorly written, or a challenge to your values, try to not judge. If you object to the content, discuss it with your child and add your own perspective and understanding. In fact, this is an excellent way to make sure he knows your values!

It won't hurt to promote the reading choices you prefer – the books you consider more quality literature, the challenging ones, the ones you learned so much from when you were his age. However, my observation and experience is that your influence is strongest when it is respectful and without shame. Shame kills motivation.

Okay, so what do I do? When you visit the library together, let him pick out anything he wants. Accept it. You can also pick out what you want him to read. You can share book trailers to turn him on to literature outside his comfort zone. (Here are some kid recommended ones, some from Washington, DC, some chosen by OPL librarians, and some from the recent 90-second Newbery film festival.)

 boy reading to his mom at bedtime

You can also wave your arms around and tell him why your favorite book is truly fantastic! That's wonderful and funny. But you must respect his process. Don't push too much.

Your child’s feelings of confidence and autonomy are more important than your pride in his accomplishments. Be patient, and you are likely to get both. Do not let your judgment (or society’s) squash his enthusiasm and kill his reading habit before he gets to what you think is the good stuff.