I know this will come as a shock, but I am an avid reader. I love books by authors who speak to me. I relish finding a good fiction writer or series, and read everything he or she offers. Sometimes I read books in order or if they feature a particularly compelling character, like Porfiry Rostnikov, the protagonist in a series of books by Stuart M. Kaminsky. As I turn pages, I grow with the character.
I choose non-fiction books by topics I discover in other reading material, or by my desire to explore deeper into the labyrinth of a complex theme. For example, once I purchased a broken down sailboat, determined to fix it up and enjoy the sailing opportunities in and around the Ohio River valley. During that period of time, I was totally stuck on reading about small boat sailing, building and rigging sailboats, and by extension books on adventures at sea.
My tastes are not particularly sophisticated or deep, but I always have a book with me, either on my smartphone or in my briefcase. My reading choices are typically material suitable for grabbing short vacations for the mind, found in waiting rooms and airline travel, when circumstances permit.
So why and how do my reading habits define me as an avid reader? On a taxonomy of avid teen readers (I know I aged out of that group a couple years ago, but believe the principles hold true for everyone), there are three large categories of avid readers* and they are defined by peer connections:
- Social – those who read what their pals read,
- Detached – those who read what sets them apart from their peers, and
- Solitary – those who select and enjoy books independently, enjoying only casual connections to others through their reading.
So the questions for parents and educators are:
- How do we nurture different types of peer-connected reading for children throughout their elementary school years so that when they become teens, kids’ avid reading habits will be an expression of who they are with their classmates?
- How do we avoid forcing the comfortably solitary readers into a social reading setting where they can’t feel independent and self-expressed?
- How do we avoid isolating social readers from their peers that will feed their need for discussion and generate pop-up book clubs?
- How can we encourage both independence and connection for those who will be most comfortable relating to others through reading yet remaining detached?
Well, the most straightforward answer to each of these questions is for parents, teachers and librarians to offer all three kinds of reading engagement opportunities to every child and then to encourage them to find their niche. That means that early grades teachers could offer a range of social reading experiences and then to lead children to try on each and over time, to self-select. When allowed to fully self-select their books, the Socials will find each other, the Detached will be become comfortable being casually and fluidly connected, and the Solitaries will be happy alone, comfortably tucked away from the others.
Most importantly, however, every child will have a shot at becoming an avid reader and as a consequence, find themselves on the path to graduating as a self-determined, lifelong, learner.
*Howard, V. (2011). The importance of pleasure reading in the lives of young teens: Self-identification, self-construction and self-awareness. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. 43, 46-55.