It's never too early to introduce kids to books

Raising a book lover is as easy as turning reading into a family affair.

Whether it's reading bedtime stories, listening to books on tape during car trips or organizing a family book club, there's no shortage of ways to help kids develop a love of reading. And it's never too early to start reading to kids - the best way to start raising a reader for life.

That's the message local teachers, librarians and other book lovers are hoping to get across during National Children's Book Week next week.

"It's really important to make reading fun and enjoyable, not work," said Elaine Black, events and outreach manager for Gwinnett County Public Library. "Kids will have enough work when they get to school."

Children who love to read usually love to learn, too. Research shows children who are read to from a very early age develop a better vocabulary and are more interested in books when they get to school, said Mary Barbee, coordinator of media and information services for Gwinnett County Public Schools. Reading out loud helps children start to associate language with books, and is the first step towards reading and writing.

Black recommends parents start by choosing picture books that they enjoy reading themselves.

"When you have that enthusiasm, that's sort of infectious, and kids see you're enjoying reading," Black said.

For the youngest children, a book's illustrations are just as important as the words, Barbee said. As far as the plot, anything that sparks the child's imagination and curiosity is great, she said.

"The best books are the ones that make the child wonder what's going to be on the next page," Barbee said.

As children begin to learn to read on their own, a parent's involvement shouldn't end. While kids should be encouraged to start choosing their own books - picking books about subjects they enjoy will help keep reading from seeming like school work - parents should read the books, too.

"Books are going to raise questions in children's minds. If you want to be the person who answers those questions, then you have to read the same books," Barbee said.

Another way to turn reading into a family activity is by organizing an at-home book club. Each month, let one family member pick out a book for the whole family to read. Later, everyone can gather to talk about the book, Black said.

Kids might not be interested in the video games of past generations, but most children still love reading the classic books their parents grew up with, Black said.

"Children's books go in and out of print so quickly, so the classics - "Where the Wild Things Are," "Goodnight Moon" - those are the really great books," Black said. "If they're still in print, that's a good testament."

New classics are being born every day, though, Barbee said.

"I would never say read only classics or read only new releases. There's a great blend out there," she said.

Reading Competition

Gwinnett County Public Schools is giving kids who love to read a competition of their own - Gwinnett Readers Rally. Starting this month, students at participating schools will try to read as many books as they can off recommended reading lists for elementary, middle and high school students.

On Feb. 24, representatives from each school will compete in the quiz bowl-style Readers Rally, where they'll try to answer the most questions about the books. Each school will also host book club meetings, where students can talk about the books they're reading.

Some examples of the recommended reading:

Elementary: "Say What?" by Margaret Peterson Haddix, "The Scarecrow and His Servant" by Philip Pullman, "Pink and Say" by Patricia Polacco

Middle school: "Little Cricket" by Jackie Brown, "Ruby Holler" by Sharon Creech, "Looking for Bobowicz" by Daniel Pinkwater

High school: "Spellbound" by Janet McDonald, "Odd Thomas" by Dean Koontz, "Jude" by Kate Morgenroth

Book Week Events

In addition to regular preschool story time events, the Gwinnett County Public Library will host performances of the puppet show "Grandmother's Birthday," presented by the American Kasper Theatre, to celebrate National Children's Book Week.

The play will be performed at 7 p.m. Monday at the Peachtree Corners Branch, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Five Forks Branch and at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Collins Hill Branch. For more information, visit www.gwinnettpl.org.