Book Review: How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul & Maria Russo

How to Raise a Reader – Pamela Paul & Maria Russo (Workman Publishing, 2019)

This is an easy to read and idea-filled book geared toward parents who want to install a love of reading in their children. It’s not so much about how to teach your child to read as it is about how to help your child become someone passionate about books. As such, it is filled with advice around creating a culture of books and reading in your family. Simple things like giving books as gifts, curating a family library, and packing books on vacation. It starts from infancy and takes you right through to the teen years, a time when many voracious readers seem to falter. It’s also filled with book recommendations from the very earliest baby books to stories to transition teens into adult readers. I’ll admit I skimmed over the teen years chapters because that all seems very far away for me as a mom of a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. But when I mentioned the book to my sister-in-law, a mom of two teens and a pre-teen, she said that there are not many books or lists that cover those later years so I think this is a book that can be helpful to parents of all ages.

Probably the main issue with a book like this is that if you are someone interested in reading it, you are probably already someone doing a lot of these things with your kids. My interest was piqued after seeing How to Raise a Reader in the bookstore and then reading Anne’s review over at I’ve Read This (her kids are similar in age to mine). Like Anne, I also enjoy reading parenting books that tell me to do what I’m already doing. I’ve been reading aloud to my kids since they were days old. I spent hours with Pearl, reading aloud from both kids books and my own books. Almost every book I read in 2015 was at least partially read aloud to Pearl. Rose probably heard fewer adult books but a lot more children’s books. Some of my most vivid memories of the end of 2017 sitting on the bathroom floor, nursing a newborn Rose, and reading a story out loud while potty-training Pearl. Reading to my kids is maybe the part of parenting that comes most naturally to me. Luckily for me, it’s also one of the most beneficial things you can do as a parent!

So while there wasn’t a lot of new information here for me, it still felt beneficial to be reminded of the importance of what we’re already doing in our family. Pearl is now in kindergarten and learning to read on her own. Storytime before bed now often includes her reading to us as well as us reading to her. Sometimes Rose joins in too with a book she has memorized!

I also really enjoyed reading the lists of book recommendations that Paul and Russo provide. Each chapter ends with a list suited for that age group and at the end of the book there are longer lists grouped according to age, interest, and genre. Despite the fact that I have years of both reading experience and bookstore experience, I often find myself blanking in the children’s section of the library, unsure what to borrow for the week. Of course I let the girls make their own choices but I usually fall back on my childhood favourites. So it’s nice to have some up-to-date book ideas to bring home.

This book would make a great baby shower gift and is a useful read for any parent. And if you’re a parent reading here, you’re probably easily convinced that this is a book for you!

19 thoughts on “Book Review: How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul & Maria Russo”

  1. When I think about potentially having children someday, one of the biggest draws is being able to read to them, haha. I’d be heartbroken if they didn’t end up being readers, so I suppose a book like this would be helpful, even just to confirm we’re doing things right, as you say! I’m sure there’s no way to know, but I’ve long been curious about how much of a love for reading is learned vs. innate. For example, yeah, my mom read to me semi-regularly as a kid, and she maybe read less to my younger siblings since she had more on her plate by then and isn’t an avid reader herself, but I feel like I’ve always loved books more than I was ever encouraged to, and it doesn’t seem like any amount of childhood reading would’ve turned my siblings into lifelong readers. Just a point of curiosity for me, I guess. I’m definitely all for encouraging young readers, no matter the answer!

    1. That is a really interesting question. So much about kids makes me wonder about nature vs nurture. My dad is a huge reader and always read to us, often just out loud from what he wanted to read. I’ve never not lived in a house crammed full of books! I think kids who grow up in house where reading is valued seem more likely to be readers but that obviously isn’t the case. And for some kids there is another adult, like a teacher, who is the reason they embrace reading. Or there are readers who come to love books as adults. I wonder if any one has ever studied this…

    2. I have no idea, but I’d love to see such a study undertaken! My curiosity has mainly come from wondering why no one else in my family is obsessive about reading like I am, lol. It would’ve been nice to have a built-in reading buddy. Even my mom, who read to me often as a kid, has only one small shelf of books (as in, a single shelf, not a whole bookshelf) and reads like, twice a year for entertainment, and entertainment is her primary goal in reading. When reading to me as a kid, there was definitely an air of ‘I am reading to help you fall asleep because I want you to sleep, not because I expect this will turn you into a reader’ in the exercise; when she encouraged me to read as a child it was treated as a sort of chore toward smartness, like ‘you have to brush your teeth to avoid cavities, you have to read to avoid flunking out of school,’ etc. And yet, as soon as I could read I’d say I needed a book to help me sleep and then I’d skip nap time to finish it! I’ve always wondered where that came from. So many readers can pinpoint a person or a book or an event in their lives that led them to reading, and I’ve certainly had influences, but I guess I hold on to the belief that my love of reading was just always there. Do our circumstances shape us into readers, or do our circumstances just allow us to discover the reader we’ve always been? The eternal question, haha.

    3. I think reading needs to be part of the family culture to get everyone into it, but it’s not uncommon for one child in the family, who may be different in personality, to seek out books. Based on what I know about you, Emily, you are different from the rest of your people. For me, I often read so that things would seem safe/better but exiting. While the Sweet Valley twins always had some kind of drama/tension in their lives, they always returned to their beautiful home, educated parents, kind big brother, food, etc. My mom also read to me sporadically, likely because she knew you were supposed to read to kids, but no one in my house sat around to read except me. Often, I was told to stop reading so much because I didn’t do much else (and didn’t see much else to do when we were home alone all summer). I mean, Biscuit does read now that we have our book club, but she got into that because it was a connection between us and I got her interested in audio books for her commute a couple years before that.

    4. I read and re-read books by L.M. Montgomery for that same reason – any tension was always solved by the end and you knew the ending was going to involve comfort and home and family of some sort. Some kids are naturally drawn to books as comfort and their own safe zone.

    5. Hahaha! I read Animal Farm at about the age of 11 because I liked books about animals. I picked it up off my dad’s shelf and it was…not what I expected!

    6. THE PIGS WERE SO CREEPY! And the animals chase Baxter in the glue wagon! Because he worked too much! Okay, we have to stop talking about this. I’m getting emotional.

    7. The ending was so horrifying to me and I did not understand it at all when I was a kid. My dad tried to explain the Russian revolution to me but I was just looking for something like “Lassie” to read!

    8. That rings pretty true for me, Melanie. I never got into Sweet Valley and I’d say I was reading more for adventure than a sense of security, but otherwise it sounds like we’ve had similar early starts to reading, right down to the gentle discouragements to stop reading and do something more productive (or at least more social). My mom still occasionally brings up all the times I was in trouble as a kid for reading under the covers past my bedtime in a tone that suggests I’m supposed to regret that now that I’m older and wiser, or at least find it silly, but I haven’t changed my mind yet about a good reading experience occasionally being worth more than a full night’s sleep, haha. I’ve definitely tried over the years to get my mom into reading more, but it just doesn’t seem to take. That you’ve convinced your mom to join the reader ranks is encouraging though, and it’s so great that the two of you get to share your reading experiences now! I’ve always loved that you and Nick read together, too. Having built-in reading buddies really is the dream.

    9. I know the feeling of someone NOT wanting to read with me, though, too. My nieces, ages 11 and 12, will NOT read with me and look at me like I’m insane when I suggest that we read the same book.

    10. Oh, I think almost every reader can probably relate to that! The rarity is part of what makes having a good reading buddy so special. 🙂

  2. Glad you liked this one! I laughed when I read that part about reading parenting books that teach us to do what we are already doing-so true right? LOL

  3. There is no guarantee that if you follow advice from a book, or that your child after having a mother in the library field, and early introductions to reading will in fact follow that path. I know firsthand. How? In clearing out files I came upon this exact title for my son from one of his schools. He is no more a reader today that he was as a youth. On the upside it did prepare him for learning languages and he accomplished both French and Japanese. So, the less is really let river flow naturally. Introduce words and have great discussions. These are inducements to a love of reading.

    1. You’re right. There is never any way to guarantee what your child will enjoy or be interested in when they grow up. I think as parents we do the best we can and try to support where our children’s interests do lie, even if those are different from our own. “Letting the river flow naturally”, as you say, is a great perspective. Thanks for reading!

  4. Karissa, good call on pointing this out as a baby shower gift. I always get stuck in baby shower gift hell trying to avoid gendered nonsense and practical but incredibly expensive devices. I don’t have a ton of girlfriends, so it’s uncommon that I’m invited to a baby shower these days.

    Your scenario potty training, breastfeeding, and reading all at once nearly overwhelmed me. You are a super woman!

    1. I have attended a LOT of baby showers in recent years (some close friends but often a church baby shower so I don’t necessarily know the parents-to-be well) and my go-to gift is a book for baby and something for the mom like a gift card to a local coffee shop.

      That scenario sounds overwhelming to me now too, now that I’m well out of it, but at the time it was just what worked! In those early days of having a toddler and a newborn, I almost always read aloud to Pearl while nursing. It was the easiest way to be able to sit still while also including Pearl. I was often thankful that she loved to be read to!

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