Books: knowledge, choice, power—a refuge that exercises the imagination, an invention that changed the world and put it in our hands. Actor Michael Caine said that the greatest thing he’d ever done was learn to read. Would your child agree? Does he curl up with a book every chance he gets—and always at bedtime? Does he ask you to buy books when out shopping, regularly visit the library, and sprinkle conversations with newly discovered words? If so, he’d say, like Stephen King, that books are portable magic.

If, however, your child’s a reluctant reader, don’t force the issue but definitely continue to share stories, along with interesting news and magazine articles–and be seen reading often. All the while, know your child’s interests and keep looking for the right book, the perfect fit. Besides good fiction, expose your child to non-fiction, biographies, newspapers, magazines, even comics, which are usually loaded with high-level vocabulary. And remember: free reading books should be pleasurable and written below your child’s grade level. To check suitability, first check the back cover or copyright page for the reading level (R.L.), and then give it the five-finger test. As a randomly chosen page is read silently, she raises a finger for each unfamiliar word encountered. Five unknowns suggest setting it aside for another day. And, if she’s complaining about a book after about fifteen or so pages, it’s time to choose another.

Meanwhile, create a cozy, well-lit reading corner, stock the house with books, and give them as gifts. From your own readings, share great leads, interesting, well-written passages, strong characterization and/or dialogue. At the same time, be curious about your child’s choices, and occasionally read the same novel, sharing predictions, insights, questions, and explanations. After finishing that book, hold a mini-booktalk, and during meals, tell stories, reminisce, and hold discussions. Conversation bolsters vocabulary, one of the best predictors of reading ability. Also visit the library together at least twice a month and encourage your child to always carry a book with him—even to the doctor’s waiting room. Favorite authors include J.K. Rowling, Jerry Spinelli, Richard Peck, Brian Jacques, Katherine Patterson, and Gary Paulsen. Don’t let your child miss out on any of them or the countless other writers waiting to tell their tales.

And when a novel is required reading, either purchase it so it can be written in and highlighted or load up on small sticky notes for recording questions, important details, plot developments, vocabulary, etc. With textbooks, sticky notes can again come to the rescue. Another possibility, though, is to photocopy a chapter, so your child can highlight important ideas, facts, and terms as he reads, noting any confusing information for asking about the next day. Even better, consider purchasing the textbook either from the school or Follett Education Services. You can call them at 1-800-621-4272 visit them at It’s so worth it because highlighting improves focus and comprehension.

So, turn off the TV, the computer, video games, whatever and settle down together and read. Help your child discover the truth behind the Chinese proverb: “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.” Don’t delay.