Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tiger Mothers and Summer Reading

I realized today I'm a tiger mother. You know, like Amy Chua of "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" infamy.

And it's all the fault of my local summer reading club.

I know, all those adorable graphics draw you in at first, lulling you with their multicultural adorableness. (I mean, it's a cute brown girl sitting on a globe while reading -- three of my favorite things, how could I resist?)

One world, Many Stories. Peace, love, and reading. Hands across the library, and all that.

I didn't realize I was following in the pawprints of maternis tigris.  I mean, there is no forcible playing of the violin in our household. We don't even OWN a violin.

I blame the librarians (for everything, actually, but that's a longer blog entry) They drew me in, those book loaners, with their disarming, narrative ways. They lured my children too, with their promises of plastic compasses and adorable graphic-ed buttons (a purple elephant reading a book! With his front legs crossed! Halloo! Hallay! Oh Happy Day!)

We were so drunk on their storied seductions, we actually signed up for not one but two local reading clubs this year. That was SOO the librarian's fault too! "Oh, you can do more than one reading club," says she, all beaming and friendly-like. "Ours is on-line this year!" And then she pointed out to my 8yo the celebratory Harry Potter book event she was hosting the following week - in which kids would get round glasses made from pipe cleaners and she would be serving every flavor jelly beans.  She even hinted she might make some butterbeer. Butter beer! I tell you, there was no resisting. Those librarians are merciless.

And so my kids have been reading, and recording what they've been reading. On-line at aforementioned butter-beer maker's library, and in person at another other den of bookish inequities -- there, the kids have to actually talk about their books to teen volunteers with pusher-like names such as "Miss Emma" and "Miss Monique."

On line they've been dictating "reviews" to me that go something like this:

The 8yo on R.L. LaFever's The Forging of the Blade: "5/5 stars. I would recommend this book for anyone who likes almost dying moments. I loved it!"

The 6yo on Anne Barrow's Ivy and Bean and the Ghost that Had to Go: "5/5 stars. There's a hole in the bathroom where the ghosts live - and they come out each night! Ivy and Bean don't want to go there but they have to use the bathroom!"

(New York Review of books, watch out.)

Just today, a dear (and very thoughtful) friend asked me if I thought that all this summer reading club stuff was bad -  encouraging kids to focus on the number of books or the silly plastic prizes (not just plastic, my kid won a WAY too big "one world, many stories" yellow cotton T shirt last week, people!). And my first reaction came out not like a whimper, or even a meow. It came out with a tiger-ish roar.

"So what?"

I honestly don't care that my kids are competing with each other ("Does my brother have 2 to report already? Oh, I better pick up the next Cam Jansen...") or diggin' the possibility of winning the library raffle each week. I don't even care if their motivation is the club first and the book second (which, by the way, I don't think it is.) And I certainly don't care that when faced with a possibility of bugging their sibling, or even picking up some Legos, the summer reading club helps them chose to pick up a book instead.

Today, author Hillary Homzie posted an interesting blog on reluctant readers.  And although, by her categorizations, I have two avid readers at home, I do recognize something: Like anything in life, reading takes a lot of practice. Kids often don't practice something that's at first hard. But if you make them practice, they will gain mastery. With mastery, comes confidence. And with both those things, comes inner desire, love, and passion, even.

I know, that sounds SOO tiger-momish, right? Like I'm looming above them in a tree - waiting to pounce - while they innocently read away below? (Oh, look, that's what IS going on in this graphic!)

I love books. I love that my children love books. And I love the structure that summer reading programs give me to help my children gain confidence in their reading of newer and more challenging material. I love the structure it gives us as a family to talk about books, visit the library every day (if not more than that) to report what we've read, or search for that next elusive book in a particular series.

The way my mom remembers it, back in my day, they didn't have all the plastic chachkies at the summer reading club. When I was five, I became an avid reader because our local library was giving out gift certificates to McDonald's and I apparently loved me some Macky-D's fries. So I plowed through a stack of Dick, Jane and Spot books and then, gorged myself.

I'm grateful our librarians are our local pushers. And I don't care if my children's love of books comes along with a plastic glow in the dark keychain compass or two. They'll need 'em to guide them home, after all their storied adventures.