So the first question might be: Well who cares? Kids have so much going on in their lives, why pile books on top of everything else?
Middle school is such a transitional time for kids. They are really like tiny adults, but without all of the baggage. They’re learning fast though and they’re desperate to figure out who they will be in this world. They absolutely look to parents and teachers for examples of what it means to be a grown-up, and that’s the first place they should look. However, books can provide a glimpse into life that kids can’t get anywhere else.
I’m not just talking about books that directly or even subtly teach a life lesson (although there are plenty of good ones out there). Books that are just full of adventure and things blowing up have value too. There’s usually a hero (or heroine) in those types of stories and they have to make choices about what’s right and wrong. They form friendships and suffer setbacks. They struggle to overcome impossible odds and make sacrifices for the greater good. So what if a few pirate ships blow up along the way. If that helps to keep them interested, then all the better.
So back to the original question: How do I get my middle schooler to go to the library?
Well, for starters…just take them. Plop them in the car, haul them into the library and tell them they aren’t going to leave unless they have a book in their hands.
But it takes more. Remember that kids (particularly middle schoolers) are looking to us as examples – even if they tell us we aren’t cool, they’re still looking up at us when they do it. So pick up a book yourself. Better yet, pick up a book for yourself that you think your middle schooler would like. Show them you read too.
This goes for dads as well (actually especially for dads). Look, I get it, I’m a dad too. You glance down at the cover of the book your kid is reading and there’s a picture of a figure skater on the front. Don’t make that face. You can do this. If you managed to sit through all those painful T-Ball games, as kids routinely hit the baseball and then ran the wrong way down third base line, then you can manage to read a book about toe loops and triple axels. T-Ball teaches kids something about life and so does reading. Don’t short change one just because there is a figure skater on the cover.
Not sure what book to grab? Well the good news is there’s someone that can help. Ask the librarian. Yeah, just walk up and ask them. I can’t think of a less intimidating person in the world than your local librarian. They are literally there waiting for you to come and ask them questions. (Fair warning: once you get them talking about books, you may not be able to get them to stop).
Just step up to their desk (with your reluctant middle schooler in tow) and say: “Hi. Tommy’s looking for a good book. He likes to ride bikes and go swimming and his friends and him like Hot Wheels cars.”
Don’t be surprised if your kid groans and sticks his head out from behind you. “Dad. I don’t play with toy cars anymore.” (yeah, except for that giant tub of Hot Wheels you keep dumping out on the basement floor).
Then once you manage to get him to pick a book out, don’t be afraid to read it too. He probably won’t want you to read it to him…but at night when he’s in bed, it’s your turn. I know what you’re thinking. But I’m beat at night, and the only thing I want to do is watch the big game. Besides, it’s a dumb kid’s book and I’ll hate it.
Well, maybe you will. On the other hand, you might be surprised at some of the quality writing and fantastic stories you find in “kids” books. Just read it. What’s the worst that could happen?
And you want a way to connect with that strange being that used to be your cute and cuddly toddler – and is now a swirling mass of furrowed brows and mumbled retorts as they stomp back to their rooms to hide. Get into their world by reading the same book they are. As a bonus, you can look for ways to sneak in little one-liners that will make even Mom jealous.
For example, at dinner when Mom says “Eat your vegetables, Tommy.” You can say “Yeah. If you don’t, we’re going to slather you in egg-yolk and feed you to the Grog-naught.” You might get an eye roll from little Tommy…or you might get a chuckle.
I can tell you from personal experience, that little chuckle is worth reading a hundred books. So give it a try. You might be surprised how much both of you enjoy reading. And best of all…next time he might ask you to go to the library.
All the best,