christmas-story-1Kim Bryant, children’s library supervisor, Idaho Falls Public Library

Many parents follow this adage when selecting Christmas gifts: something they want, something they need, something they wear, something they read. As a children’s librarian, it makes me happy to see parents include new books as part of their gift-giving tradition.

Ask just about any parent and they will tell you that reading is a skill their kid needs to master. But how many parents say that reading is a skill their kid needs to love? If you want your kid to read, they need books around them. If you want kids to love to read, they need to love the books.

At the library, I regularly hear parents tell their children, “You can’t read that. It’s too easy.” Or sometimes, “You can’t read that. It’s too hard.” Maybe the parents object to content — the book is clearly “silly” or “gross” or has a ton of pictures or graphics. In any case, these situations are always hard to witness. Now, I do understand that books for school assignments often have reading requirements attached to them. But please, allow your kids to pick up, check out or purchase books that interest them regardless of the level. Giving them choice in their recreational reading will encourage and develop a love of reading. I regularly reassure parents that quantity is often as effective as quality in increasing reading levels; if your kid reads ten Rainbow Magic books, it may just be as effective as one Sammy Keyes book.

As a kid, I can’t say we owned a lot of children’s books, but those we had I read and reread until, in some cases, I read the covers off. I never thought about reading levels. I was allowed to visit the library and check out whatever I wanted: every Berenstain Bear and Value Tale when I was younger, Sweet Valley High when I was older. In junior high, I read my little sister’s Baby Sitters Club books alongside “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Diary of Anne Frank”.

One more gift idea: Read to your kids. Read to all of them — not just the little ones; include your older readers, too. Most parents understand the importance of reading to babies, toddlers and preschoolers. But once a kid moves into short chapter books as an independent reader, their parents stop reading to them. This moves reading from a shared activity into a solo one; worse, it can change a fun activity into a chore. So keep reading to your kids until they reach those tween and teen years. If possible, read with them one-on-one. Think back to your own childhood — didn’t you crave one-on-one time with Mom or Dad? When you include reading in your time together you cement reading as a positive, worthwhile activity — one you could even love.