Between the Lines

How young children learn to enjoy reading

Nurturing a lifelong love of reading is more about the quality of books than the quantity

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 10:00pm

I was quick to stock our bookshelf at home with Frog and Toad, Ling and Ting, Mouse and Mole and other great character pairings in early chapter books, ready for when the children start to read independently.

Yet for all of her first year in primary school, my daughter preferred to have me read aloud from our picture book collection, although she occasionally read them on her own.

I had worried that chapter books, even the easy ones, were too intimidating for her, or that she simply didn’t enjoy reading. Such concerns turned out to be unwarranted: halfway through grade two, my daughter skipped the early readers, casually picked up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and effortlessly read it on her own. So I was once again reminded that the reading journey does not have a specific route or time schedule; it is full of wandering and detours, much like the journey through childhood.

Ever since I spied my daughter reading Charlie, I’ve been bringing within view and easy reach all the chapter books including Ramona the Brave, The Great Brain, The Enchanted Wood, and The Real Thief.

I try not to let my love for books colour the choice of books for my children. Perhaps it is precisely due to this love that I am careful to share books that are at the appropriate reading and developmental level; I want to make sure that my children have the same opportunity, as I had, to fall in love with the words and stories of these great works.

I always imagine that the highlight of the family reading journey is when a child is five years old. About that age, he has greater comprehension than his toddler years, and yet still loves to snuggle in your arms and giggle through humour-filled picture books.

After attending education consultant Diane Frankenstein’s book camp last year, and then bearing witness to my own daughter’s independent reading, it dawned on me that the fun really begins in a child’s primary school years. Sharing ideas and hearing my daughter’s thoughts about a book have allowed me to gauge her emotional and moral development. It’s so exciting to gain insight into her passions and her fears, and even her character, through our conversations about books.

Nurturing a lifelong love of reading and learning is more about quality of books rather than the quantity of books. A child who speeds through books without reflecting on or discussing them is like a tourist on a nine-cities-in-10-days whirlwind tour. Frankenstein provides the tools for parents and teachers to show a child “how to love reading by helping him find great stories, and through questions that jump-start conversations, show him how to mine a story for its treasures.”

Following on the same analogy, such a child is like the traveller who spends time getting to know a city by staying longer, meeting local folk and perhaps finding new adventures on another visit. Like this ideal traveller, a child who has conversations about what he’s reading and who re-reads favourite passages or even an entire book, will return to his own life with fresh perspectives and a deeper understanding of the world around him.

Although I am not looking forward to my daughter’s teenage years, I am confident that being more involved in her reading now, by continuing this habit of talking with her and sharing ideas, will help our parent-child relationship a decade later.
Annie Ho is board chair of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong (, a non-profit organisation advocating for family literacy


Diane Frankenstein will host workshops in Hong Kong from Mar 8-12. Go to for details and registration