Welcome to Advice in The Stacks, a bookish advice column from me, Traci Thomas, the host and creator of The Stacks podcast. My show is all about books and the people who read them, with new episodes out every Wednesday on your favorite podcast platform. Due to the nature of the show I am constantly asked for advice on all things books, so I’m making it formal and bringing my advice to all of you with my monthly column here at SheReads.com.
If you have questions about anything book related, CLICK HERE and submit your question, and then come back the last Thursday of the month to see my advice.
From Heavy by Kiese Laymon: “Re-reading is the reader version of revision.” This line, like so many in the memoir, stopped me in my tracks reading. (I picked up this book because of you and The Stacks Pack btw!) Now, I’m super interested in prioritizing rereads this year and feeling nosy/curious about your thoughts on rereading. Do you reread any books regularly, or are there any books you considered to be endlessly rereadable? I was also wondering if you have interviewed anyone else who is an avid rereader like Kiese Laymon.
I have to admit, and don’t tell Kiese, but I have not historically been one to reread books. I have started to do it more when we feature books on The Stacks that I read a while back and want to revisit, to freshen my memory before discussing. It turns out I like to reread, even though I don’t do it a lot, because I find the pressure to read new books overwhelming.
What I enjoy about rereading is that I always find things that I missed the first time through. I also love that feeling when a section you remember not loving in a book hits different a few years later because you’ve changed and grown as a reader and a person.
As I think about my relationship with rereading I’m reminded that I reread a lot as a child. I think I must have read Charlotte’s Web at least 20 times. I also used to rewatch my favorite movie, A League of Their Own, endlessly as a child. I wonder if there is something to being young and wanting to consume the things you love over and over, because you’re not worried about missing out on all that the world has to offer.
I can’t think of any “endlessly rereadable” books, but I have enjoyed going back and reading some of my favorite books from childhood to see if they hold up. I reread The Outsiders a few years back, and my memory of the book was nothing like what I read in 2021. I did not care for the book as an adult, not at all. The same thing happened with Go Ask Alice which I reread early this year. As far as adult books that I’ve loved rereading I think poetry is really good for second and third passes. This book is brand-new but, I’ve already read Clint Smith’s newest book Above Ground twice. Better the second time. It was such a rich reading experience because I knew what I was looking out for and caught even more additional nuggets along the way.
Now, as an adult, I feel the pressure to read new things, not just new to the world, but new to me. I constantly feel like I don’t have time to reread Sula because I still have five other Toni Morrison novels to read for the first time. This feels wrong to me, because I know that much of what I read now, especially the brand-new stuff, I won’t end up liking nearly as much as I know I like Sula.
And no, I have never interviewed anyone who talked about rereading as much as Kiese Laymon. He is da gawd of revision.
Last thing I’ll say, I have, in fact, reread Heavy by Kiese Laymon, and it was even better the second time around.
I have a toddler, and while we read books before bed, I want to make sure I’m fostering a love for the written word early on as much as possible. Do you have any tips?
I wish I had a real and true answer for this. I wish as a parent you, or I, or anyone, could know how to shape our children intentionally into the most well-rounded, arts-loving, compassionate, and determined people we all want our kids to be. I don’t have the exact answer and I don’t know a ton of children besides my own, so I’ll share what I know anecdotally from being a parent of twin three year olds. Again, this is what has worked/is working for us, so far.
I think you’re off to a great start. Reading every day before bed with your kids makes reading a special time to spend with loved ones. It reinforces that reading is enjoyable and something that your family does. It also turn reading intro ritual, which is something that has been helpful for me as an adult trying to carve out more reading time in my day.
As you look to pick books to read at night with your toddler, I would urge you to pick books with vivid illustrations. My kids love to ask me questions about what they’re seeing on each page and when a book has a lot to look at, they’ll spend more time with the book trying to parse and learn. It challenges them and gives us all something to discuss. A great example of a book like this is What We’ll Build by Oliver Jeffers.
I try and model whatever behavior it is that I want your kids to adopt, from eating salads (yuck) to loving on my books (this comes easy). If you want reading to be an important time of the day, be sure to turn off the TV and have some dedicated reading time. Let your toddler have time to interact with their books without you while you read your adult book. Sometimes my kids will “read” by flipping the pages or discussing what they see with themselves. Sometimes they’ll just make a giant tower with their books, (they have obviously embraced “The Stacks” as a family brand identity). Any interaction or sustained time with books feels like a win to me. In this same spirit make sure your books are accessible and in your home. You don’t need to perform “look dada loves books so muc” but just having books around that you read from is enough. Most kids want to be like the adults in their life, so if they see you making space for books in your home and in your life, they’ll want to do the same in theirs.
Have you gotten your child a library card yet? I decided to get my kids library cards because I was frankly overwhelmed by how expensive kids books are and how quickly my kids would lose interest in them. So we went to the library and they loved it. They loved it way more than I could have imagined. We each take out one book at a time (me included) and then when we’re ready we return and get more. They love that we can sit there and read books, they love that other people are there. They love the excitement of giving the librarian their library card to scan (and yes they each have their very own). We all love discovering new books we wouldn’t have found otherwise, like these. We also all love getting to read through a series of books like these. The library really is a magical place.
I would also add that if helping your child understand civic responsibility and community is important to you, having them build a strong relationship with one of the most important communal institutions, the library, is a great place to start. As kids get older, you can explain more and more and explore all the things your library has to offer. I say this especially given the political climate around book bannings and villainization of libraries and librarians.
The last thing I’ll offer on this is about books as your child gets older. I wrote a piece on this last year which was more in depth, but I want to cover it again briefly here. Do not judge what your kid wants to read. Let them be the curator of their library. Let them pick books that excite them, let them read comics, let them listen to audiobooks. Let them explore. The second you put your own judgements on the world of books you’re going to stifle whatever was in there and whatever you’ve been trying to cultivate. I actually think this advice goes for kids at any age, and also any developmental stage or ability. Parents (myself included) need to back off a little and let young people enjoy and despise in the same ways we make space for these types of opinions in adults.
Here are a few toddler books that my kids, The Mini Stacks, are loving right now. I do have a full list here, if you’re looking and this list goes from newborns through to their current age and I will continue to update it as they get older.
Frankie’s Favorite Foods by Kelsey Garrity-Riley
Marina: A Story about Plastic and the Planet by Jesse Byrd illustrated by Andressa Meissner
Frida Khalo by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, illustrated by Gee Fan Eng
Like by Annie Barrows & Leo Espinosa
Los Angeles Baby by Feather Flores, illustrated by Asia Ellington
Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers
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