Bringing Literature to Life

A Playing Smart Activity

If you’d like to share your passion for good books with your child, consider trying some of the following ways to enrich the reading experience – and create a lifelong reader.

Design a quiet reading nook. Collaborate with your child on choosing materials – a rug, pictures or a poster for the wall, inexpensive shelving, a lamp – that will make this place truly conducive to reading and thinking. You might also set aside a reading time for the whole family so that the living room, for instance, becomes “the reading nook” between 7 and 8 p.m.

Encourage your child to keep a reading journal. Have him use it to keep track of books he reads and his reactions to each, perhaps even including an illustration or a favorite quotation. Such a journal could also list new words he or she learns from each book, along with short definitions to help cement the learning.

Suggest that your child write to a favorite author (a preschooler can dictate a letter to you). Many authors have Web pages or accept letters in care of the publisher (look for the address on the back of the title page). Some authors get very few personal letters and answer them all, while others get a great many letters and must resort to answering only a few or sending a form response. In either case, allow several weeks to get an answer.

Start a family book club. Include older, school-aged children to encourage discussion and more sophisticated thinking about literature. Good children’s literature can often be enjoyed by all members of the family.

Imaginary Interactions Write a letter to a character in a book. From a “so sorry you lost your dog” message to one that invites a character to become a friend, your child can use her imagination in these creative interactions.

Act out a scene from a favorite book, as though it were a play. Some children will enjoy choreographing a dance that illustrates some scene they liked or found moving. Or how about making simple puppets and presenting the story as a puppet show? One familiar way of re-enacting a beloved story is to make a shoe-box diorama of a setting or scene, perhaps creating tiny characters out of clay or other materials.

Some children enjoy imitating an author’s distinctive style in writing of their own. To help your child do this, suggest that she think about what makes this particular author unique. Is it the author’s use of short sentences and lots of dialogue? Is it her absurd sense of humor? Is it her use of talking animals or of imaginary or mythical creatures?

After reading a rhyming book or a book of poetry for children, ask your child to try his hand at writing a poem in a similar style. Some children respond well to being given a key word, such as “puppy” or “cloud,” and then being challenged to write, in five minutes, a poem using the word. Anything goes.

Kid-Lit Learning
Is a picture always worth a thousand words? Have your child take both sides of this argument by first finding a book illustration that communicates a wealth of detail and nuance. Then have her find a passage in a book that expresses what she thinks no picture possibly could. When are pictures more expressive than words, and vice versa?

Collect figures of speech and wordplay from the books your child is reading. Eventually, once he’s accustomed to expressions like “raining cats and dogs,” he’ll develop the sophistication to understand and appreciate more complex metaphors.

Look up more information. Encourage your child to research an author’s life or to seek information on unfamiliar words, places, historical events and ideas found in books.

Create a fable. After reading a fable, your child might like to make up, with your help, her own short fable (two or three paragraphs) based on some event in her life. It helps if the event involved someone whose behavior was greedy, lazy, untruthful or imperfect in some other way. Encourage your child to include lots of details about what happened – and, of course, the story must have a moral.

Click to a get list of books that you and your child will want to add to your shelf of favorites.

Learn More:10 Ways To Raise A Strong Reader

For more fun learning activities, go to Playing Smart Activities.

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is the author of "Playing Smart: The Family Guide to
Enriching, Offbeat Learning Activities for Ages 4-14" (Free Spirit
Publishing, 2001), from which her columns are adapted. Check out Susan¹s Web
site at