Very young children can’t be avid readers in the fullest sense of the term. They can be excited by books and about the closeness they feel when loved ones read with them. If they have had lots of experience with good books they can certainly be admirers of books and be drawn to open them and to take a look. But that’s not avid reading.
Being avid in the way that lifelong readers are avid comes most often at the end of a complex evolutionary passage.
Avid reading is not passing infatuation with the media we call books, nor with a particular, favorite book or author. Rather, the relationship with books and the written word must be enduring. The reader must feel the flow of language and its accompanying images pull her out of her day-to-day life and into quite new, otherwise unavailable experiences.
Additionally, avid, self-directed reading is not about a particular reading event. Avid reading is deeper and wider than that. Young children who consume picture books one after another, much like I eat potato chips, are discovering books’ truly enriching nature. They are learning to enjoy the marriage of art and word blended into brief stories or expositions. They are developing a lasting appetite for reading.
At some point, however, kids will latch onto THEIR BOOK. This favorite book can move their reading intensity to a higher level. Such favorite books quicken the pulse, offering visceral pleasure and a comfortable opportunity to investigate how speech and print are related. These books are the catalyst for a watershed change in this literary relationship, putting the child on the doorstep of independent reading.
Mature, avid readers who are advanced in this literacy journey have evolved into long-haul, marathon readers. They live their lives labeled as readers, lifelong learners, dedicated adventurers, wandering and investigating life through the glorious world of print and image. They are eager to open new books and enjoy the journeys authors and illustrators have created for their enjoyment and edification. Avid readers find themselves almost breathless in anticipation when entering a bookstore or library, being on the threshold of discovering their next adventure.
College recruiters and human resources agents, seeking thinkers, problem solvers and risk takers could do worse than to ask each interviewee, “What are you reading? What books on your nightstand?” For the majority of applicants, they will get darting-eyes and a little too much silence prior to a canned answer. But from top candidates, they’ll hear about depth in intellectual curiosity that could be nurtured into not just a scholar or an employee, but a contributor, invested in the continued personal growth that is a hallmark of a leader.
At the end of birth to grade 12 education, ideally all young adults should be avid, self-directed, readers and learners having traveled through these book passages.