This post is part of our International Women’s Day celebration. See all the posts here.
Start by telling her stories out of your own mind when she can’t fully understand you yet. As she grows up and starts understanding your tales, she will learn that stories and books come from the imagination of humans just like you and her.
Make storytelling a sacred activity for you and her, and when you run out of stories from your own head, take her to a book shop and let her pick the books she wants. Explain that those books are just like your stories, but written down in words so other people can share them.
As you read the stories out to her, teach her how to imagine herself in that world, to put herself in that character’s skin. Teach her that the world inside of a book is not only written down, but can be recreated in her imagination. Tell her she can be in that world if she immerses herself in the story inside of her mind: the adventures, the magic and the excitement in these stories can all belong to her if she reads with her mind’s eye.
Lead by example: always have books in the house, fill your walls with stories and characters, read your own books in front of her and talk about the wonder that books are to you. Tell her that reading different perspectives can teach us about other people we don’t naturally understand, and give her books that tell the story of people who are different from herself. But at the same time, try to find books where she feels represented, books that inspire her to read more and find out more.
When you drive her to a book store, buy her some books but don’t buy too many: just promise you will bring her back for more after she is done with her most recent purchases. Take her to a library often and let her check out as many books as she wants.
Let her know about the classics but don’t force them on her and assure her that being “well-read” doesn’t mean you have to read what everyone is reading or what everyone thinks is the best. Let her know that romance is a perfectly good genre to enjoy and that she can read what she likes, even if people judge her for it. After all, she’s the one who is imagining the worlds she is reading so she’s the only one who can know what she enjoys the most.
When you come back from a trip, give her a book as a present. Preferably, a book that can somehow represent the place that you travelled to. In this way, she will see how language is often connected to culture and history.
As she grows older, give her the books you loved when you were younger and tell her why you loved them. Make sure that your love of these books shines through your conversations with her, and that she aspires that connection with books herself.
Buy her schoolbooks earlier than other parents and watch her read them ahead of time. When she shows herself to be proud because of this, don’t tell her off for bragging but tell her you are proud of her too. When you catch her reading after bedtime with a flash light, don’t tell her off too hard – you know just as well that some books are hard to close.
Don’t be annoyed when she starts wanting to go to midnight book releases – drive her to the book stores and don’t shame her for any costumes she might want to wear or the presents she might want to bring to a YouTube creator who wrote a book. Just say yes to what she likes and try to share it with her.
When she becomes a well-read woman like you are, you can trade recommendations and talk about different worlds from your own. When she becomes a well-read woman, she will see that her world will open widely, that there are ways to understand the other, and I promise you, she will be grateful.
Thank you for encouraging me to read, mom. Happy International Women’s Day.