8. Ask an expert.
You pay a mechanic to service your car, even though you may be able to do it yourself. You can colour your own hair, but when you pay a hairdresser to do it the result is much better. There are experts in all areas whom you can pay for service or advice, and this includes experts on books and reading. But there is one difference: you can get advice on books and reading for free.
Start at your local bookshop. Bookshops are magical places. They contain the promise of pleasure: row upon row of pristine new books, beautifully displayed and very enticing to the most reluctant reader. Book sellers cleverly design their stores so that you can browse in sections according to your taste: science fiction, crime, romance, cooking or sport. Best of all, bookshops contain fantastic children’s and young adult sections. Titles are displayed face out, so the covers will tantalise, entice and entreat you to buy. There are often recommendations to accompany the books. If not, your bookseller will be able to recommend a title to you. Booksellers are highly intelligent and well-read people. (I know many booksellers with degrees in children’s literature). These booksellers are voracious readers and they know their product. They may not like me saying this, but I think most booksellers are more passionate about finding the right book for their customers than making a profit.
A plea: please try to avoid the department chain stores which heavily discount popular titles. They buy books much more cheaply than book shops can and therefore sell them cheaper. But they are really making it hard for bookshops. The department store cannot offer the knowledge, expertise and service your local bookshop does. Just consider their presentation and selection of titles….both are lacking. So if you can afford it, pay a few dollars more and support your bookshop. This will ensure they survive to support our reading future.
Librarians are also passionate about finding the right book for their patrons, and once again, their expert advice is free. Libraries are treasure troves of knowledge and recreation. Unlike the pristine books in a bookshop, your library contains volume upon volume of well-loved, slightly worn tomes. In older libraries there is even a slightly musty smell, which bibliophiles find tantalising. Your library is organised in beautiful Dewey decimal order and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, your librarian will only be too happy to assist.
Develop a relationship with your librarian and bookseller. Let them know that your child is a reluctant reader/new reader/voracious reader. They really are experts at recommending books for all types of readers. By becoming a regular customer in your bookshop or regular patron in your local library, your bookseller and librarian will look out for titles to recommend for you. There is nothing more exciting to a bookseller or librarian than promoting books and sharing the passion for reading.
When your children are young, get in the habit of making regular visits to your local library and utilise all the programs your library offers: story time, competitions, author visits. Make it a fun time and it will be something your child looks forward to. Make trips to your bookshop a special event. Even quality, second-hand bookshops can prove exciting as many have excellent children’s sections. It was in a second-hand bookshop that one of my daughters first discovered Trixie Belden books. This find eventually developed into a love of crime fiction, which contains a plethora of reading options from quick mysteries to the more sophisticated classic literary genre.
If you’re not convinced yet about visiting your local bookshop or library and taking advantage of the wonderful free, expert advice available consider this. If you are not confident enough to read aloud to your child (Rule Three), they will do it for you! Every library has story time for younger children and many offer it for older children too, or it may be incorporated into a teenage book club. Ask the Children and Youth Librarian what is available. Similarly, good bookshops offer story time and many also have readings, sometimes by the author.
If your bookshop or library offers an author visit, make sure you go! Even if your library or bookshop has paid a fee for this, it is free for you. And talks by authors are fantastic! I have been privileged to hear many authors speak over the years, and not surprisingly, given that they deal with words every day, most authors are gifted speakers. Many are quite hilarious and will engage your child and make reading “cool” and enticing in a way that no-one else can.
There is not much in life that is free. Expert advice on books is free. Books from your library are free. A beautiful new book from your bookshop costs approximately the same as a movie ticket, but will offer more than 90 minutes of pleasure. Reading really is an affordable and accessible pastime. So when you want to get your child reading and don’t really know what book to borrow or buy, just ask an expert. It’s free.
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