Booking in the grandparents
READING together is a "lovely way for generations to connect and build a really special relationship".
"Escaping into a story always creates feelings of warmth and pleasure in a child," said teacher-librarian and children's book expert Megan Daley, author of Raising Readers and creator of the Children's Book Daily website.
Speaking to grandparents at Toowoomba Library recently, she said grandparents are an "untapped resource" in building children's reading identities.
That's particularly the case today with long working hours for parents, and grandparents increasingly "filling in the gaps".
Not only are high-quality contemporary picture books "works of art", they are also "gateways to different and interesting conversations".
That could include talking about where nan and pa used to live or work, their pets, hobbies or what life was like for them growing up.
Looking at beautifully depicted scenes may elicit a conversation about nature and lead to a walk looking for flowers, birds or animals, other books or resources where these things can be further explored, or activities like painting.
Reading can also be a gateway to tricky subjects, such as bullying, illness, death, break-ups or additions to a family.
"Books can give the words when you don't know what to say," Megan said.
Studies have shown just 20 minutes of reading a day can build children's vocabulary, spelling, general knowledge and understanding, inquiring and critical thinking and their ability to "read visuals", all leading to an improvement in standardised test results of up to 90%.
But reading should not be a task, so don't depend on those "readers" sent home from school; they are "a teaching tool" rather than recreational reading which will foster the love of words and imagination.
That raises the question of how to choose a good, age-appropriate book.
Talking to community and school librarians and independent book sellers, checking award book lists and websites such as childrensbooksdaily.com for reviews and lists of books by age level and themes and, where possible, reading a little of that book to gauge its appeal, are Megan's recommendations.
While she suggests in general avoiding mass-produced department store books, she believes "every book is valid if the child enjoys it".
And yes, that can include the toilet-humour books so prevalent today if they become "the hook", particularly for reluctant readers.
She also urged grandparents not to be afraid of using screens or audio books.
She pointed to storyboxlibrary.com.au as a great resource, with stories read by comedians like Jane Kennedy, actors including Play School's Justine Clarke, musicians including Nick Cave and Missy Higgins, as well as authors and Aboriginal Elders.
Just as in a good food diet or exercise, she said the trick was balance and variation, with reading on screen balanced with print and activity, such as reading a cookbook and making a recipe together.
"It's really nice to establish routines, to have special books associated with grandparents, perhaps a special spot where you read together, and to read as a wind-down after school or before bed, and escape ..." she said.
Megan was recently awarded the Queensland Teacher Librarian of the Year, is former vice-president of the Children's Book Council of Australia, and is on the Australian Children's Laureate (Queensland) board, as well as the National Library of Australia publications committee.