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Book Review: How to Get Your Child to Love Reading

How to Get Your Child to Love Reading was conceived when author Esmé Raji Codell was staring at a shriveled potato that was sprouting eyes. She wondered, " . . . if I had a potato, nothing but a potato, how could I teach a classroom full of children? Well, I could cut a potato in half. (I can use the paring knife from my own kitchen, right?) We could review fractions. With one half, I could cut a design and do potato prints. We could plant the eyes from the other half of the potato (it can have eyes, right?) and grow more potatoes, charting their growth." The ideas cascade: writing a story about a potato, making a book of potato recipes or potato poems, making potato stamps of all the letters, teaching reading, getting books from the library about potatoes, talking about the Irish potato famine, writing letters to executives about potato chips or Mr. Potato Head.

The preceding excerpt illustrates the boundless creativity of Esmé Raji Codell. On this first page she establishes the metaphor that recurs throughout How to Get Your Child to Love Reading: "Children's literature is our national potato." It is the seed that, through its many shoots, can help our children become caring, educated citizens.

Although the cover dubs How to Get Your Child to Love Reading a "Parent's Guide," this book is a treasure trove for teachers, librarians, grandparents, anyone who cares about children and books. It provides "activities, ideas, and inspiration for exploring everything in the world through books." It is a valuable resource for nourishing juvenile readers, both the reluctant and the ravenous.

How to Get Your Child to Love Reading includes over 3,000 titles recommended for children from birth through eighth grade. However, it doesn't stop with mere recommendations. As Esmé says, "This book is a recipe book for children's literature: how to serve it up so it's delicious and varied."

After a section on reading with "the littlest bambinos," How to Get Your Child to Love Reading is organized by subject matter: social studies, math and science, story books, etc. Esmé subdivides the broad categories, however, so that book lists have very specific headings. She offers books for specific seasons, for special occasions (such as the arrival of a sibling or the loss of a tooth), for dealing with everyday problems (tattling or the hiccups).

Because the categories are so specific, many books are listed simply by title and author. That is sufficient. Sometimes Esmé adds just a word or two of description. For example, in the math section the note "place value" beside the title The King's Commissioners is extremely elucidating. For some books Esmé provides sentence summaries. For others she provides more information, even excerpts. She provides just enough information to whet our appetites.

But How to Get Your Child to Love Reading has so much more! Esmé's wisdom and revelry shine through on every page. Esmé includes dozens of articles, some on controversial subjects (for example, should reading be rewarded?). She has recurring features honoring "reading heroes" and addressing questions about various aspects of reading. She provides a list of benefits of reading aloud, a "Happy Childhood Checklist," a list of "Must-Reads by the Time You're Thirteen," six pages of story starters. She offers suggestions for integrating literature with life, often in celebration -- a parade of books, a storytelling festival, an unbirthday party. She recommends additional resources, many of them on the Internet.

Appendices and indices round out How to Get Your Child to Love Reading. The appendices include Newbery and Caldecott Award honorees as well as winners. Information about a specific book is easy to find since the books are triply indexed -- by title, author, and subject.

I am thrilled to have discovered Esmé Raji Codell. She is indeed an exuberant, eloquent young voice for promoting literacy through children's literature. How to Get Your Child to Love Reading may well offer the best hope for stemming the current tide of illiteracy.

A parent and former teacher, Fran Hamilton is the author of Hands-On English, now in its second edition. Hands-On English gives quick access to English fundamentals and makes grammar visual by using icons to represent parts of speech. The book is for anyone 9 years or older, including adults. Fran also publishes companion products to Hands-On English and free e-mail newsletters: LinguaPhile, published monthly, is for people who teach and/or enjoy English; Acu-Write, published weekly, addresses common errors in English. For more information, visit

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