A bookish third-grader wins the day

The class's reading-incentive chart inspired other kids to emulate Emily.

Charlie Riedel/AP/File
Bookworm: A boy spends time reading during his all-day kindergarten class in Overland Park, Kan.

"The kids at school are trying to beat me this month," my daughter said.

"Beat you? At what?" I asked.

"They're trying to read more minutes than me. Kendall read for two hours yesterday!"

I used to think that my bookish, reserved third-grader was smart, but definitely not someone her peers would emulate. A 9-year-old who prefers books to baseball? Who in their right mind has a 40-book "Baby-sitter's Club" collection, arranged numerically on one of two overstuffed bookshelves, next to a complete set of "Pony Pals"?

Emily's love of literature began in the usual way with "Goodnight Moon" and its kittens, mittens, and old lady whispering "hush." Snuggled together, we rocked and read, lulled by the comforting cadence that mirrored our back-and-forth motion.

Too shy to sit alone at library story time, 4-year-old Emily climbed onto my lap, her wire-rimmed glasses glued to the bright illustrations in Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."

Afterward, she filled her tote bag to the brim, lugging home a heavy stack of Animal Baby magazines, "Franklin the Turtle" adventures, and anything with a sparkling, eye-catching cover.

Curled on the couch, we spent afternoons with Arthur, DW, and Clifford the Big Red Dog. No wonder Emily isn't much of an athlete today. Truth be told, I actually prefer reading to most pursuits.

Our home is covered with stacks of books, newspapers, and literary journals. Built-in bookshelves in the family room, office, and two bedrooms are packed with bookish treasure. "I'm not sure I care for that decorating choice," an architect friend advised shortly after our move a few years ago. Wisely, I ignored him, choosing to surround myself with great literature.

In Emily's bedroom, three piles of chapter books tower over the nightstand, teetering precariously close to a heavy, oversize flashlight (a night-reading necessity.)

Sprawled on her bed, lost in Judy Blume's "Superfudge" or Annie Barrows's "Ivy + Bean," Emily is content for hours. So when a reading-incentive chart came home from third grade, I had to laugh.

"We're reading for play money," Emily explained. "The more hours we read, the more money we earn. Then we're having an auction."

The plan was simple: Earn $1 of play money for every 100 minutes of reading. We don't need this, I thought. This is for all those nonreaders, not my daughter.

Emily was more enthusiastic. "I need a sticky note!" she announced, grabbing a pencil to write down her reading "start time."

Two thousand, one hundred, and fourteen reading minutes later, and Emily was rich with fake $10 and $20 bills, which enabled her to bid on (and win) two Webkinz stuffed animals; a light-blue, Barbie-size, battery-operated tricycle; and a pack of pink, sugary bubble gum.

As she unloaded her loot, I realized that she had gained something else, as well.

"Mama, everyone says they want to read more than me!" she said.

A glow of pride surrounded my daughter, who realized for the first time that a love of literature is something that can command respect.

Jacqueline Kennedy wrote: "There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all."

Emily's world, once surrounded by books, now includes an important missing piece: friends sharing her passion and loving her literary ways.

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