I fell in love with books during a war while my kids lost interest in reading during COVID. Between 1975 and 1990 during the Civil War in Lebanon, my mom, an avid reader, was determined to make me one despite many odds. Once every few weeks, starting when I was about 10, she and I would make the half-hour trek by foot from our apartment in Beirut to a place we called the “book cave.” It was a nondescript space—about 15 by 20 square feet—tucked in the basement of a dilapidated building. Inside, it housed hundreds of books in various genres and languages.
I don’t know why or how that place existed in a country that didn’t have a single public library. But I didn’t care. I looked forward to going to “the book cave” and, like a treasure hunt, digging through the books strewn on the shelves and in cardboard boxes stacked around its windowless perimeter. There I discovered historical fiction, devoured the classics in French and Arabic, and fell in love with romance novels. Reading helped me escape my reality and fueled a passion for the written word that later translated into a profession as a journalist and an English teacher.
When I learned I was pregnant, I was determined to instill the same love of reading in my two children. I succeeded at first. Even before my son and daughter were born, I followed the research that showed reading to babies while still in the womb increases their familiarity with certain sounds later on. I also placed a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in their nursery and filled it with books in French and English.
Night after night, I held my baby in one arm and a book in the other. Exhausted and drowsy, I would sing (out of tune) in a hushed tone the words to Goodnight Moon and Brown Bear, Brown Bear. My husband and I took turns reading bedtime stories and gave our children books as gifts on birthdays and holidays. During March Reading Month, we volunteered as surprise guest readers at their school. Of course, I was ecstatic when my kids begged to go to the library where they would borrow and devour five or six books at a time. By all accounts, I had checked all the boxes for raising well-rounded readers.
That is until COVID hit.
After spending six or more hours a day attending classes on Zoom and staring at their screens, my then 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son were too tired to read a book or listen to bedtime stories. They wanted to play outside and chat with their friends. At the time, I blamed their lack of interest in reading on boredom and isolation. I hoped things would return to normal after the pandemic ended, but they didn’t.
I tried everything I could think of to reignite their interest in reading, including limiting screen time, downloading e-books, and even signing up for a membership on Audible, but nothing worked. After being confined for two years, my kids were eager to rediscover the real world, connect with friends, and participate in team sports. They also embraced their culture by participating in activities to preserve and promote their heritage. In the process, they became more curious about issues and ideas affecting the world around them.
As a mother and educator, I struggle to let go of something in which I firmly believe, but at the same time, I refuse to turn what should be an intrinsic motivation into a chore. Instead of lamenting that my kids don’t enjoy reading as much as I do, I’ve decided to focus on raising culturally-savvy learners.
In the meantime, the bookshelves in their rooms remain stocked with their favorite childhood reads. Perhaps someday, they will grab Goodnight Moon or Brown Bear, Brown Bear and sing the words to their children.