Do Not Disturb
An Essay By Peter Brown
A few years ago, while on a book tour, I was interviewed by a local Chicago TV show. The interview had gone exceedingly well. I was charming and clever and I even managed to mention the title of my new children’s book (Children Make Terrible Pets) without seeming like a self-promoting jerk. But the interview changed suddenly when I was asked one very simple question:
“What were your favorite books as a child?”
As a successful creator of children’s books I should have had a HUGE list of childhood favorites ready to rattle off. But I couldn’t think of a single one. Instead, I stammered and fidgeted and turned beet red and eventually, mercifully, the host changed the subject. That interview was probably only seen by a handful of Chicagoans, but still, I felt completely humiliated.
That night in my hotel, I tried to make a list of my favorite books from childhood. And then I realized the sad truth: I hadn’t really liked books as a child. Books had seemed dangerously similar to homework, and I was squarely in the anti-homework camp. Plus, my miserable parents were both voracious readers, and I didn’t want to be anything like my parents, so I read as little as possible.
It wasn’t until college that I began to enjoy reading. In college I read because I wanted to, not because I had to. Whenever I felt like living in a world of dragons and trolls, I’d pick up something with Tolkien’s name on the cover. Whenever I wanted to schmooze with sexy robots of the future, I’d find a paperback by Isaac Asimov. And whenever I was in the mood for a little scientific perspective all I had to do was grab a book by Darwin or Sagan or Dawkins. For the first time in my life I read for the simple joys of reading and learning. I became a Reader.
Nowadays, I’m trying to subtly coax kids into becoming Readers. I do this by trying to make children’s books that are enjoyable. We’re all so focused on our kid’s test scores and transcripts that I worry they’re only reading because they have to, not because they want to. Kids should want to read, because reading is awesome. And kids who enjoy reading will go on to do to great things.
So let’s help our kids become joyful Readers. Let’s fill our homes with all kinds of books and let our kids explore them in their own ways. Let’s help kids find the perfect book for their particular interest. Let them laugh at potty humor. Let them squirm at teeny bopper romance. Let’s forget about what we think kids should read, and focus on what kids want to read. If they pick up a book that’s below their reading level, it’s because they love that book, and loving a book is a wonderful thing. If they’re reading a book too advanced for them, they’ll get bored and put it down. They are in the process of becoming joyful Readers. Do not disturb.