dell antonia bribing kids

The secret to building kids’ connections to the printed page is through stories—the pot of gold in books and the imaginations of young children. My grandson, Matthew, loved to tell stories about how he thought the world worked, or, better yet, the violence and valor (in his mind) of dinosaurs: how they lived and how they died.

I loved to listen, my form of bribery. I even upped the ante and the two of us improvised dino-dramas in my living room converted to dinosaur habitats—one for his carnivores and one for my herbivores. As time went on, these tales turned out to be our family’s “story-nerve,” as I’ve come to call it, as mom, dad, and sister became interested listeners, questioners and contributors to Matthew’s favorite scenarios about the imagined lives of these creatures. Eventually, he connected his interests with a search for books that filled his expanding desire for more information and more stories!

In KJ Dell’Antonia’s article in the NYTimes “The Right Way to Bribe Your Kids to Read”, she discusses ways to send messages to children, especially over the summer, “about the internal joy to be found in books.” The story-nerve in her home is family sharing and reading books as part of daily life, highlighting favorite phrases, characters, or images to be savored among loved ones—siblings, parents, grandparents, and anyone else who happens to be within listening distance.

I believe all families have their story-nerves: plots, ideas, or characters that intrigue, thrill and excite. Family engagement leads not just to learning to read, but as important, to loving to read. It would be great to hear about favorite ways or themes shared with children or grandchildren in your families.