How Not to Read Cheesy Books with Your Quarantined Kids

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Two judges for the CT Book Awards reflect on what makes books “good”—and why that matters for children during a global crisis.

For parents of school-aged children, it’s finally sinking in: This will be a long COVID winter. We’re already eleven months into isolation, which feels like the previous winter never really ended. We simply went from bundling up our kids before they played in the yard to slathering them with sunscreen (for the same yard) to bundling up again. And our hearts sink every time they wander back indoors. What to do next?

In both our families, the answer is always books. Not only does an author reside in each household; in addition, Erin runs an elementary school library, and Sarah helps plan literary conferences. Plus, both of us are preliminary judges for the annual CT Book Awards: Erin in the Children and Youth category, Sarah for Fiction. We unabashedly consider writers to be essential workers.

Data supports this. The more books a child accesses at home, the higher the test scores in every subject. Students, particularly those in impoverished areas, often only have access to books through their school and classroom libraries. Public library closures have only amplified the reading deficit. And yet literally every book you bring into a child’s home contributes to that child’s flourishing, more so than parents’ education, occupation, or wealth.

Why? Reading (especially reading aloud) builds academic habits and executive-function skills (paying attention, emotional regulation, working memory, and so on). In addition, written stories expose children to vocabulary, information, and a theory of mind (“others think differently than I do”), as Meghan Cox Gurdon argues in The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction. Literary fiction, in particular, has been …

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