I won’t lie, when I became pregnant my favorite thing to daydream about was reading books with my kids snuggled on my lap. I had been a teacher and children’s book lover for years and selfishly wanted to create a home environment where reading was a beloved activity. Truthfully, that daydream didn’t include my husband as he doesn’t often read for entertainment.
Last summer, when my children were 9 and 11, my husband came home with a boxed edition of the first five Hardy Boys books, announcing his intent to read them to the kids, starting with number one, The Tower Treasure. He shared with us his memories of reading these books as a child and how they probably contributed to his future love of CSI, Law & Order, and MacGuyver (the 80’s version, of course).
My kids viewed the retro look of the book with suspicion. If this book were anything like the first four episodes of MacGuyver we had watched to my husband’s enthusiastic requests, we were all concerned this wouldn’t end well.
We’ve heard similar comments from many of our readers and friends. You really want your children to fall in love with the same books you loved as a child. Or you just want to offer your child a way of connecting with you more deeply by peaking into your early years. And while the intentions are good, what happens next can be (but doesn’t have to be!) damaging if we cling to these books from our childhood with white knuckles, refusing to let go.
Tips for Sharing Your Favorite Books from Childhood with your Kids
- Expect attitude. Your children will likely look at the dated cover art and the old fashioned type face with skepticism or outright hostility. Or, the opposite might happen. They may be overflowing with excitement to experience something you love, only to be let down by the reality of the book once you dig in. Remember, their feelings about these books are valid. Consider saying things like, “It’s ok if you don’t love this as much as I do, I just wanted to see if it interests you.” Or, “Let’s just read a couple of chapters and see if you enjoy it.” It’s like trying new foods… encouraging them to take a few bites and see if you like it is better than force feeding.
- Take breaks. We usually encourage parents to let their child choose their own books (read our post all about the importance of self selection here), so in this case, you may need to be willing to dip in and out of this book you’ve selected for them. Don’t expect that they’ll want to read it every night. It took my family a full year to finish that Hardy Boys book with my husband. Understandably, they wanted to read their own books at bedtime most nights, and that should be encouraged, not discouraged.
- Know when to quit. The worst thing that could happen is that your desire to have your child experience this book squashes their interest in reading altogether. Consider this a science experiment. Recognize when it’s time to realize it didn’t work and that your hypothesis was not accurate. Be sure to say things like, “Thank you so much for giving this a try. It means a lot to me that you were willing to listen to a few pages so I could show it to you.” Don’t make them feel like they did anything wrong. Ask them to read a few pages of their favorite book to you to demonstrate your willingness to learn about the books they love, too.
- Celebrate new vocabulary. Your kids are going to hear some words they haven’t been exposed to. Jalopy and prowler were two from the Hardy Boys that stuck out to my kids. They may find this frustrating, so be ready to stop and offer explanations. Maybe keep a dictionary nearby and consider that part of the adventure of dipping back in time.
- Point out stereotypes or harmful language and discuss why it is wrong. Our last post was all about microaggressions. Give that a read if you’re not familiar with this. If you haven’t revisited this magical book from your childhood since you were a kid, prepare yourself to possibly be horrified by how marginalized people are treated in these books. (I’m looking at you, Laura Ingalls Wilder.) If you’re worried about it, skim the book in advance. You may decide this book is just not worthy of being introduced to a new generation and is best left in storage in the basement, collecting dust. Appreciate it for what it offered you… a love of reading. But it need not serve that purpose for your children.
- Prepare to be humbled. I’ll always remember relaxing in my living room, hearing giggles coming from my son’s bedroom while they read the Hardy Boys. When my husband emerged, I learned my kids had given the characters crazy nicknames. They had obviously reached the stage of poking fun at this book.
- Our final takeaway, and perhaps most important of all, is that it’s not really about the book. It’s about spending quality time together with your children. That may translate into laughing at your childhood fascinations, or how different life was “way back when.” It might involve tough conversations about how society has changed (or hasn’t changed enough.) And it might mean accepting when your child doesn’t love the book the same way you did.
Our own mother spent countless hours at the dining room table coloring and drawing with us when we were kids. But it’s the time our dad, home from work with pneumonia, colored a picture of a frog out of our favorite coloring book that we also remember. Fair or not, sometimes it’s the unexpected that lodges in the memories more than the day-to-day routines you set up.
Old favorites can become new favorites. Just remember that they don’t have to be and all will be well.
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