What if I can’t raise a reader?

My mum reads every night before bed. Without fail, even after the longest day, even if it’s only a paragraph, she gets cozy under the covers with a book perched on her ribs. Lately, she reads from a Kindle, which she’s insistent I buy, but my materialist side is intent on pages, spines, and margin notes. I’m getting off track. The point is that my mum reads a lot. And, growing up, she read to me every night, took me to the library, and enrolled me in young writer’s camp.

Like my mum, I really want my daughter to be a reader. I’m from a family of readers. Books are the topic at every family dinner, though it mostly consists of us screaming titles across the table. “MIDDLESEX,” an aunt will yell, while everyone else audibly sighs in agreement. I want Joanie to be part of that tradition. I want her to raise her bottle in the air with confidence and say, “but have you guys read The Gruffalo?”

Of course there are a million reasons why reading is good for you, and I won’t bore you with a review. I will however explain the two additional reasons why having a bookworm of a daughter is important to me.

The first being that I like that loud camaraderie my family has achieved over books. Yes it’s abrasive, and no, it doesn’t lend itself to criticism, but by knowing what my family is reading, I can keep tabs on what’s going on in their minds. For instance, I know that if someone’s reading Knausgaard’s My Struggle, that person is feeling heady and perhaps over-analytical. To have an idea of the lens through which a family member is currently seeing the world, and to be able share that lens is a priceless bonding tool. Who doesn’t want that advantage with their kids?

The second reason is that I don’t know how to relate to people who don’t read. Maybe I’m a bit of a snob, (If you ask my mom, she’ll tell you I’m a huge snob.) but for me, reading is like eating and sleeping and drinking and babbling with Joanie. It’s just something I do without thinking. I believe that if you’re not a reader, you’re missing out on a tradition that’s much older than you are, than Twitter and television are, than silly swiping games are. Reading has been around before screens and it’ll be there after. (I hope. I think.)

I say these things, but of course I’m realistic. I can read out loud and point out all the dogs on all the pages all I want, but Joanie will still be a person complete with her very own agency. She may hate reading. She might be bored by it, or she might find some other way of devouring information, or she may have troubles with the technicalities of words on a page. Sure, there’s something to be said for nurture, but who knows if I’m doing the right thing, or if Joanie even cares. I’m not going to stop trying simply because no one knows what will happen, but I need to be prepared. She’s my daughter, and I’ll figure out a way to communicate with her, if not through books. That being said, I must admit, I’m terrified by the prospect. What if I can’t raise a reader?

To end on a positive note, because I’m hopeful Joanie will end up having some kind of relationship with the written word, given the way she likes to put the pages in her mouth, I have included a list of books that I love reading with my daughter.

  • The Wind and the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • Olivia by Ian Falconer
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Lousie Loves Art by Kelly Light
  • The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
  • Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • Esio Trot by Roald Dahl

I’m always looking for new books or to be reminded of old ones, specifically ones with strong female characters. Please please please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Also please note that I am rethinking my love of Shell Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

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If not a saucy baby, than…

Before I had one of my own to deal with, I’d never thought much about baby personalities. The idea had always been abstract. Babies were babies, akin to dogs in my mind. I was that person at dinner parties interjecting with stories of how silly, smart, dirty my dog can be. Babies were flat cartoons of themselves doing baby things like pooping and mimicking cuss words at inappropriate times.

Even now, after socializing primarily with an infant for seven months, I’m finding it difficult to grasp the concept of baby personality. There’s a thin line between what I perceive to be a trait and that which I have projected onto her, rendering her a white canvas. Of course her life has been short and she has little experience to draw upon, but Joanie is definitely not blank. There are specific tendencies she displays that are undeniable, despite my skepticism on the subject.

Joanie is first and foremost a sociable baby. She’s fascinated by faces and comfortable in anyone’s arms. Usually she’s very sweet, except for earlier this week when she grabbed another baby by the cheek and wouldn’t let go. I’m sure she meant it as a gesture of friendship, or at least an exploration into the world of other humans. Her caregiver couldn’t discipline for this act because Joanie did it with her big toothless smile, the very same that has won her the title of Favourite Baby at Daycare. Which leads me to her second trait: Joanie is cheerful, ecstatically so. When the other babies start to cry, following each other’s cue until they reach a crescendo of wails, Joanie remains smiling if not slightly confused. “Why are all you dummies crying,” she seems to say. They, those that wrote the ubiquitous baby manual, say one shouldn’t compare babies, but how else will I know which characteristics are specific to my daughter and which are just general baby qualities.

Joanie’s personality isn’t the only one I’ve noticed. There’s Shane and his excitable hops. There’s Tare, always striking a pose. I like to call her saucy baby. And there’s Siobhan, who screams when the attention is shifted from her, little narcissist that she is. Can a baby be a narcissist? Aren’t all babies narcissists? Is it narcissistic to call a baby a narcissist?

As for being blank, Joanie is anything but. She has her father’s scowl, her mother’s evening grumpiness, and her own urge to stand up and dance. Though I’d like to think I can shape her, and I’m not discrediting the value and efficacy of nurturing, my daughter’s personality will develop on its own. It’s odd, if not unsettling, that I have to remind myself that babies are little humans with agency, rolling, crawling or walking through the experience that will determine who they become.

Joanie is not a dog. I’m not imagining her smile, but I can’t presume to know why it’s there.