Find more joy in reading to your kids

Before becoming a parent, I already knew I wanted books to be a big part of my children’s lives. I wanted them to grow up surrounded by great books, reading with us, and reading on their own. Knowing I’m a huge book lover, both sides of the family independently came up with the same baby shower idea – instead of a card, bring your favorite children’s book – and sent almost identical invitations that looked like cute, old-fashioned library checkout cards. I can’t think of a single book I received at these showers that I did not love.

I also was the happy recipient of whole collections of baby and toddler books from friends whose children had outgrown them. This also got me so many wonderful books. But it yielded some of the most awful books I’ve ever seen in my life. We’re talking poorly written books with computer graphic illustrations that made me want to gouge my eyes out when I saw my son toddling over with them; books I shoved under the couch when Bub wasn’t looking; books I threw across the room when I was done reading them just so he would have to spend at least a few seconds retrieving it before I was subjected to the torture of reading it again. (Yes, I seriously did that.)

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Jaybird reads about animals in a favorite hand-me-down book we received at a baby shower.

These terrible books made up at least half of the collections I’d received from friends. I felt sure the friends who gave these books did not like them either. These are the same friends who gave me wonderful books at my baby showers. They have great taste. So, why did they keep these awful books throughout their child’s early years? Why was I keeping them? I think my friends and I wanted our children to have access to lots of books, and believed that children’s books are just like that. I mean, won’t we hate anything we’ve had to read 27 times in one day?

But amid these little horrors I was reluctantly reading, there were also books I really enjoyed. Timeless, memorable, charming. Books I could read 27 times in one day without hating them. These weren’t just the classics–these were old and new books, well-known and obscure, longer and shorter…I even found some baby vocabulary books that were fun to read. I was slowly learning what C.S. Lewis already knew, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” One day, I looked through all our children’s books and did something I never expected myself to do: I got rid of most of them.

Looking at a donate stack as tall as the keep stack can make a book-loving parent nervous – isn’t it better to have more books for my kids? Not if those books are a huge drag for parents. Kids are very perceptive. They know if you’re not enjoying yourself, even if you’re trying your darnedest to cover it up. You child’s attitude toward reading will mimic yours–loving reading yourself is so valuable to your child’s reading life. If you hate reading a book, let it go. Even if your kid likes it (I mean, I wouldn’t take a book they carry around like Linus’ blanket or anything, but you get the idea). It’s okay. It will not hurt your child to have fewer books. I believe it will help them love reading when you are finding more joy in reading to them.

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Reading a family favorite, The Giving Tree, with Bub and a coffee machine.

I donated more than half our children’s books, and our collection is much better for it. Some of our books are timeless classics and Caldecott winners, but some are forgettable books that we just enjoy reading. Some I will give to my grandchildren someday. Some will leave us when my kids get older. I’m sure some I just haven’t seen enough of yet to hate. The important thing is, my kids love reading these books over and over, I love reading these books to them, and I have stopped shoving books under the couch in despair.

I was going to round out this post with some guidance on weeding your children’s books, but I realized it’s really a personal thing. There’s no magic formula for a collection your family will love. My advice is simply this: if you don’t like it, let it go. Your child’s reading life will be better if you find more joy in reading together.

PS – Starting next week, I will be sharing short, weekly posts featuring my family’s favorite children’s books. I would love to hear all about your family favorites as well!