Thursday, September 3, 2009

Missed opportunities

In the children's section of a busy bookstore recently, I spent a little time watching parents with their young children. The kids in the picture book area were happily playing with all kinds of toys, oblivious to the piles of books around them. The adults seemed to prefer it that way. I saw one mom roll a ball toward her toddler and say to her husband, "I should have gotten a ball for each of the kids."

I know there are lots of reasons that so many bookstores have turned into toy stores with books. But I was surprised at how few of the families there that day engaged the kids with the books. Despite an inviting seating area where parents and grandparents could easily have pulled a child onto their lap and tried out a few books together to see if they were keepers, the adults all seemed intent on keeping the children distracted while they chose books.

I couldn't help wondering if the kids weren't getting all kinds of wrong messages about books. Books are for grown-ups, they couldn't possibly be as much fun as a ball, they aren't important enough to take time away from the half dozen other things on our to-do list.

And yet the parents were trying very hard to do the right thing for their kids. They were so earnest about looking for good books, studying the covers and reading the jacket copy and consulting with the sales staff.

I felt sad for everyone. Wouldn't it be nice if those parents could go into a store that was only about books and spend a little time with the children discovering stories together? Wouldn't it be nice for kids to experience a place where books seemed like the most important things in the world?

Maybe those lovely book-centered moments will happen when the families get home with their new books. I hope so. But by making choosing books just another chore to get done, they may have missed the chance for the little ones to spy some treasure that speaks to them and come running over with it, begging, "Read this one!"