An interview with my middle schooler, Emma.
Asking for help from one cool middle school book nerd.
I knocked on Emma’s door, opening it before she answered me. I already knew what she would be doing behind her closed door in the midst of her always-untidy room because it’s what she is usually doing on a Saturday afternoon: she’s drawing and writing. With messy hair made messier by bright red, oversized headphones, she was at her desk, writing in a Google Doc on her laptop. I watched a moment and she soon selected another tab to work on an illustration of the fictional creature she has been working on for her story.
“Emma,” I said loudly, knowing she wouldn’t hear me any other way. She pulls the headphones off one ear, turning her head and looking at me over the top of her glasses.
“Ye?” She said in response. She’s long dropped the s on yes. When asked why, her answer is always because she can and everyone understands her well enough without it.
“How do you feel about being a guest on my author blog?”
“What does that mean?” She raised an eyebrow.
“It means I would either interview you and then write about it, or I would ask you to write something and I would edit it and post it.”
“Ye to the first, and maybe to the second. What would I write about, though?”
“I can do that. Send me the interview questions.”
And so I did. I sent her a Google Doc with several questions, and she answered right away. After I reviewed her answers, we continued talking the next night as I wrote the post and she lounged on the couch in her Pikachu sleeper and played a Pokemon game while her little brother and sister slept. Here’s what she had to say.
A Love of Reading
M: What made you fall in love with books? Did it happen all at once or was it a gradual thing?
E: I found the series Fairy Tale Reform School, and until I found that it was a gradual thing. I’ve read the whole series so far.
M: Would you say you’ve noticed an improvement in your reading since you read the first book in the series and started reading more?
E: Definitely. Now, a book like the first book that took me weeks to finish only takes me a day and a half [to read].
M: Tell me about the first book you ever felt really excited about or connected to.
E: The first book of Fairy Tale Reform School (FTRS) was the book that I was first really excited to read.
M: What was it about that book in particular that drew you in and sparked a sense of connection for you?
E: FTRS had many different characters I loved. Gilly, the main character, is adventurous and clever, for example.
M: Was Gilly like any characters you had read in any books before FTRS?
M: What was so different about the series compared to books you had read before?
E: I wasn’t forced to read it because it wasn’t for school. And all the other books I had been reading were still little kid chapter books. This was the first middle grade book you let me read.
M: You were still pretty young. You were only seven or eight. I was heitant to let you read something meant for older kids without reading it too. [I reminisce with her about reading the book together, taking turns reading chapters out loud; she doesn’t remember me reading it to her at all or sharing the reading]
Being Read to
M: What’s the very first book you remember either reading or being read to you?
E: I remember my grandma reading Froggy books to me when I was little, and I enjoyed those.
M: Do you think being read to made an impact on your willingness or enjoyment of reading later in life?
E: Maybe a little bit, but not that much.
M: Do you think there were any benefits to being read to when you were little?
E: I think I have a better vocabulary because of it.
How Reading Has Changed Her
M: What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve learned from a fictional book?
E: I think the most important lesson I’ve learned from fictional books is to stand up for what’s right.
M: Tell me what your life would look like if you didn’t have access to books.
E: My life would be boring and pitiful, I think. Books let me go into another world, and I think books can help me get through rough times.
M: Can you give me an example of rough times?
E: I don’t know.
M: Would you consider a bad day at school to be rough times?
M: How would you be different if you never fell in love with books?
E: I might not be such a nerd. I wouldn’t be able to use grammar correctly, and [I] would struggle in school.
M: What is your all-time favorite book?
Emma’s Advice for Parents
M: If you could offer parents one piece of advice to help them help their middle schooler to fall in love with books, what would it be?
E: Pick books that are in a three to four book series that you think suits [your child].
M: I picked the first Fairy Tale Reform School book for you, didn’t I?
E: You did, but I like picking my own books now that I know what I like.
M: Why do you think it’s important to start a book that’s part of a series?
E: Because if they get hooked on the first book, they have more to read next that they will probably love too. So one good book experience is backed up by another good book.
M: Do you have any other advice for parents?
E: Take your kid to a book store with a wide selection and let them pick whatever book they want. It may not be a book you think they’ll like, but letting them choose is important.
M: Why a bookstore and not the library?
E: A library is good too, but for the first book I’d go to a book store.
M: Why is purchasing a book important?
E: I feel more like I have to finish the book if we’ve bought it instead of borrowed it. I also like to collect things, so I prefer to buy books whenever I can.
M: What would be the worst thing I could do as your parent to encourage you to read?
E: Force your child to read.
M: One last question for you. What’s the hardest part about middle school so far?
E: Keeping up with work to avoid homework and keeping on teachers’ good sides.
Tips from a Book Nerd’s Mother
I don’t have all the answers to getting your child to read, but I’m happy to share what I think we did right (and wrong; just email me and I’ll share).
I found it interesting she doesn’t remember reading Fairy Tale Reform School together. So what I think was pivotal in spurring her love for reading might not have been that pivotal after all. It did all start with the Fairy Tale Reform School books by Jen Calonita, though.
We bought the book about six months or a year after her little brother was born, so the amount of time I was spending focused on Emma, doing something not related to homework or chores, had been vastly reduced by his entrance into our lives. His first year was really, really rough, and I was still learning how to juggle two kids of vastly different ages (we are less than one month shy of a seven year difference) and stages.
So in an effort to spend more time together, we went to Barnes & Noble to look for books. She wasn’t that interested in choosing, and after taking a look at the books meant for her age, I couldn’t blame her. Most of them felt like required reading books, something designed to be easy to read and easy to finish. Instead, we ventured over to the middle grade section to peruse the selection. There, I choose Fairy Tale Reform School and the first book of The Ranger’s Apprentice series. I had read The Ranger’s Apprentice series and knew it had great characters and a good story. Then, we made time for several days to take turns reading chapters as I was feeding her little brother.
The combination of using a book to give her more positive, just-for-fun attention and moving her up to a reading division that consisted of more in-depth stories and characters worked for us. She soon wanted to read outside of our reading times and even asked to read to me while I completed tasks around the house (or worked from home, which was not convenient timing).
The hard part after that was taking a close look at the books she wanted to read before I let her. She was young for middle grade, and I didn’t want to hand her something that had themes that were too grown up for her. But online summaries of books were helpful, and now she’s old enough I worry less about middle grade books. My focus now is squarely on finding young adult books that positively model issues she may face in the next few years.
If you are looking for book recommendations for your child, feel free to email email@example.com and Emma and I will ask you a few questions before offering up titles we’ve read that we think might work for your child.