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Raising a Reader: A Mother's Tale of Desperation and Delight by Jennie Nash
160 pages St. Martin's Press August 2003 Hardcover rated 4 out of 5 stars   

Before looking at reviews or blurbs from other writers, I expected Raising a Reader: A Mother's Tale of Desperation and Delight to be a memoir about helping children learn to love reading. Right -- and wrong. What Jennie Nash, mother, breast cancer survivor and author, has done here is two-fold: she has written about her two daughters and their reading processes, and she has added a lot of "how-to" information for parents struggling to hook their children on books. Nash is not an educator or a reading specialist; she is a parent and a passionate reader. She comes from parents who loved reading. Books -- real, hand-held books (not e-books) -- are at the center of her life. Fortunately, books are also of daily importance to her husband and her two daughters, now ten and seven.

So many people seem to have stopped reading books, in part because of time constraints, real or imagined, it's touching to read of one family for which this is still an honored and necessary activity.

Here are some of the reasons Nash has always loved books: "You can find companionship in books, counsel, solace, and delight. You can spend hours alone in a room listening to the quiet music of the written word, transported completely to another time and place." You can enter others' worlds, without traveling farther than your comfortable armchair. Even children today are aware of the shrinking number of hours in each day and of modern day stressors all around us. Reading helps, the author believes. "I see my kids using reading as an antidote to their fast-paced lives," writes Nash. "If they have a bad day at school or they're not feeling well or things have been rushing by at a furious pace, they will withdraw to their beds, slip under the covers, and lose themselves in a book. When they come back up for air, they are refreshed."

One important point that Nash stresses throughout the book is that children learn to read at different rates and different ages; she urges parents not to worry needlessly. Although some kids learn to read even before they enter school, others don't read until the first or even the second grade. In California, where the author lives, the state mandates that "all children be reading -- well -- by the end of the third grade." Two of Nash's keys to getting her own kids to read were to read to them, of course, and to make sure they were surrounded by many, many books. When they went to the library, they would bring back "fifteen, seventeen, twenty" books, not just one or two.

One of my favorite anecdotes in Raising a Reader is not about the author. This is the story of a man with five children who read to each of his children for half an hour every night throughout all their childhoods. After he became a grandfather, he would sometimes buy the books his grandchildren were reading so he could "call them long distance and read them a chapter over the phone." What a glorious story -- and what a generous man.

The perfect audience for this book seems a bit unclear, but my best guess is new parents who wish to inculcate a love or at least a joy of reading in their children and early childhood educators, as Nash offers lots of creative suggestions and title recommendations. In fact, the last section consists of lists of books for various ages and to give as shower gifts. Most of her picks are quite famous -- E.B. White, Judy Blume and Maurice Sendak, among them -- but she also gives credit to more obscure books that deserve to be better recognized -- for example, ones by Louise Fitzhugh and Gail Carson Levine.

Raising a Reader is a hopeful and helpful book. This is a cheerleader's book of how to do something worthwhile, based on her own highly successful experiences. Nash's enthusiasm and suggestions will hook many readers, especially those who are struggling with their children's interest in reading.
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