[Viewpoint] Raising a reader

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[Viewpoint] Raising a reader

Koreans often ask me, “What is the best way for my child to learn English?” When my daughter was 2, we moved to Seoul. Julia attended a Korean preschool and the language spoken at home was Korean. “Sesame Street” and I were her only regular exposure to the English language for the next three years. Yet, she started primary school in the United States every bit as strong in English as her American-raised classmates. Reading was instrumental.

Since one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a love of reading, Julia and I would like to share our favorite children’s books. We began our reading odyssey when my munchkin was 6 months old. Every evening she would nestle under my arm and we would read a bedtime story together, even if this meant rushing home from work dinners.

We started with colorful pop-up books. At first, this involved me reading and Julia trying to yank out the pop-ups. There were several casualties, including “Peekaboo You” and a wonderful animal alphabet book by National Geographic. Amazingly, my favorite one survived. “When I’m Big” tells the story of Pip the caterpillar’s quest to figure out what he will be when he grows up. I would keep Julia’s attention by pretending to be each of the characters in the story.

It is no coincidence that my parents love books as much as my daughter and I do. Fortunately, my mother saved my favorite book from when I began learning how to read: “Curious George Rides a Bike.” Written more than 70 years ago by a couple fleeing Nazi Germany, this is one of several books about an extremely curious monkey who always gets into trouble. Julia thinks the stories are “good for discouraging bad behavior.” The adventures will charm readers for generations to come.

Julia and I developed a special love for picture books that rhyme. As Julia puts it, “I love the way picture books fit the words and pictures together like puzzle pieces.” We agree on our favorite author, Dr. Seuss, but not our favorite book by him. Julia favors “Hop on Pop” in part because it was her cue to jump on me. It was also the first book she could read by herself. I will never forget watching the process unfold. My favorite Dr. Seuss book is “The Cat in the Hat.” How such a cute, rhyming story could be written using just 223 different words is beyond comprehension. I loved it so much I read it with her more than 50 times until she finally hid it.

Returning to the United States allowed us to become regulars at several local public libraries, and to read hundreds of picture books together. This was the only way to swim through the sea of children’s books, especially given that hundreds of new titles appear each year. As Julia become more confident in her reading, we began to focus on the artwork and stories. The following ten books are the rest of our favorites:

* “Farfalina and Marcel”: This is a moving story about a caterpillar and swan who become best friends despite their differences.

* “You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You”: This series of books takes the form of an alternating dialogue to retell well-known stories with a humorous twist. Julia recommends this book for reluctant readers.

* “The Sleep Ponies” and “My Pony”: Both books explore the power of our imagination and dreams.

* “Library Lion” and “Wild About Books”: Who knew animals loved books so much? The first tells a compelling story, while the second relies on Dr. Seuss-inspired rhymes.

* “Katie and the Dinosaurs”: This is our favorite in a series where dinosaurs and paintings come to life.

* “Picasso and the Girl with the Ponytail”: The amazing true story of Pablo Picasso’s meeting with a shy student and how their lives changed.

* “Piano Starts Here”: The powerful life story of blind jazz musician Art Tatum.

* “The Name Jar”: How can a new student from Korea fit in at her American school?

Julia has developed such a voracious appetite for reading that it is difficult to bring home books fast enough from the library. Even though she has made the transition to chapter books, we still enjoy reading to each other. Scientific studies have shown that reading out loud stimulates a child’s brain in unique ways.

This is one reason I am such a big fan of the Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program: I know firsthand the power of getting a book into a child’s hands. Books unlock imagination and possibility. Books open doors and unleash new ideas. Hopefully someday Julia will read with her own children in just the same way we have.

*The author is the Korea representative of Asia Foundation.

by Peter M. Beck
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