Tom Burns, a book-obsessed parent, makes the case that not owning some of your kid’s favorite books is a wonderful way to encourage them to read
My wife and I are book people. We both work in publishing, we were both English majors, and we both read whenever we get a chance. So it wasn’t that much of a surprise to us when our young daughter started reading at an early age. Books are in her blood and our house is packed with them. We have bookshelves in most rooms of our house and my seven-year-old daughter probably has more books than any of her second-grade classmates. Not that I’m bragging in anyway. I’m not. Books are just something that have become really important to our family and we’ve bought stupid amounts of books over the years. (Oy, they’re a pain when moving.) But, despite our obvious weakness for the written word, there is one rule for encouraging your child to read that I truly believe in, heart and soul.
PARENTS—You definitely, absolutely should NOT own all of your child’s favorite books.
I get that this sounds counter-intuitive. “Why would I deny my kid something he or she loves? My child loves BOOK A. Shouldn’t I encourage my child to read in any way that I can? And wouldn’t owning BOOK A encourage them to read it at home again and again?”
Those are valid points and I’m not saying that your kid shouldn’t own ANY books that they love. But they definitely shouldn’t own all of them. To better explain what I mean, I’m going to lift a passage from comedian Sarah Silverman’s totally charming (and hysterical) autobiography, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee. In one section, Silverman introduces a maxim that she lives her life by. That maxim is “to encourage everyone, in all things, to ‘Make It a Treat.’” As she describes it:
“Make It a Treat” is similar in spirit to “everything in moderation,” but still very distinct. “Moderation” suggests a regular, low-level intake of something. MIAT asks for more austerity; it encourages you to keep the special things in life special.
I absolutely LOVE that philosophy and I think it’s a particularly important philosophy to re-enforce in kids. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about—A few years ago, we checked a copy of Lane Smith’s The Big Elephant in the Room out from the library. We read it at home that night and my daughter went berserk. She went crazy for it. I have NEVER seen her laugh like that. We’re talking howls of laughter. The book KILLED her. She couldn’t have loved it more. We read it multiple times every day during the check-out period and, after we returned it, my daughter begged me to buy her a copy to keep at home.
And I said no.
Why? Because this was obviously a special book. This book was a TREAT. If she was able to read it at home every day, if it was just another book on her shelf, it wouldn’t have been as special or exciting to read. And the fact that we didn’t own The Big Elephant in the Room then became a reason why my daughter was excited to go to the library. Maybe it would be there, maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe I’d let her check it out, maybe I wouldn’t. Not having constant, immediate access to The Big Elephant in the Room kept the book special.
To this day, we don’t own a copy of The Big Elephant in the Room. We’ve given it as gifts a few times (which drives my daughter crazy), but it’s still one of our most special library books and I think, after a while, even my daughter was happy to leave it that way. But, none of this is to say that I don’t occasionally break my rule and eventually buy her one of our treat books.
“Making It a Treat” is a fantastic way to keep certain books special in your child’s extended library. But you don’t just have to rely on your local library. Maybe you buy a copy of one of their favorite books and you leave it at a relative or grandparents’ house, so it becomes a special reading experience whenever your kid visits. Maybe reserve certain books for special times or places—the book only comes out in the car, on the potty, at a restaurant, etc. Maybe you buy a copy, but you don’t keep it with the rest of your child’s books. Keep it in YOUR book collection and you’re the gatekeeper who decides when it comes out and when it doesn’t.
Delayed gratification can be a good thing for your child at times. And limiting their access to a book that they really, really love can make sure that reading said book remains a special experience.
So, when you’re building your home library, even though I know you’ll want to stack the shelves with everything and anything your kid loves, just keep in mind the philosophy of “Make It a Treat” and consider the benefits. Who knows? Maybe only reading Where the Wild Things Are a few times a year will help ensure that it remains your child’s favorite book for years to come. Stranger things have happened.
The original version of this article appeared on Building a Library: Finding the Right Books for Your Kids.
Photos courtesy of the author.