The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 6, 2002


Raising avid readers: A conversation with Mary Leonhardt

Carlisle resident Patti Russo recently spoke with Mary Leonhardt, a teacher at Concord-Carlisle High School.

Leonhardt, author of several books about reading including, Parents Who Love Reading, Kids Who Don't, and Keeping Kids Reading, offered practical tips about how to cultivate a love of reading and talked about why it is critical to school success

Eight easy ways to encourage reading in your family:

1. Leave time in your child's busy schedule for reading.

2. Have lots of books and magazines around the house. Keep them in the kitchen, living room, bedroom, and the car, too.

3. Create comfortable reading nooks around your house.

4. Keep televisions out of the bedroom. If your child isn't a reader, have the TV mysteriously break down.

5. Vacation where there is nothing to do but read.

6. Attach bookshop gift certificates to birthday presents and holiday gifts. It will encourage a visit to the bookshop.

7. Visit the library regularly, but be prepared to buy new books, comics or magazines if the library doesn't have them. It costs money to support and nurture an avid reader.

8. Do what you say — let your child see you reading.

Captain Underpants

or Huck Finn?

Rude jokes, terrible smells, unspeakable behavior — this is what you'll find in the early reader series, Captain Underpants. Kids love these books — adults aren't so sure. Many parents and teachers want children to read only classics or "good" literature. Leonhardt worries that this approach may ultimately backfire. With its complex syntax and less familiar style, classic literature demands strong reading skills. "Trying to make kids read classics before they are ready will pretty much ensure that they will never read them. If they start with popular or easy books, in time they will tire of them and graduate to more difficult authors." Choose books your child will read; establishing the habit is the primary goal.

Keeping kids reading beyond fourth grade

American schools do well with early reading. But as kids reach the upper elementary grade, they start falling behind. Educators refer to this shift as the "fourth-grade slump." Leonhardt believes this slump coincides with the time teachers start to assign books to read. "Schools have only the best intentions, but when teachers assign a book, it drives out other reading with kids. Even if students don't read what the teacher assigns, they won't read other books because they have the assigned book hanging over their heads."

If children slow down or stop reading in the later elementary grades, by the time they get to high school, a lot of them have lost the habit of pleasure reading altogether. "They don't know what adult authors they like because they never made a jump from juvenile authors," explains Leonhardt. To rekindle a love of reading in your older child, look for adult authors who write books similar to the kind your child enjoyed when younger. Librarians, teachers, and fellow book lovers can help. These web sites also provide suggestions:,, "Always assume your child can and will love to read," says Leonhardt. "Good readers are only good readers because they read all the time."

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito