Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Raising Healthy Readers: How to Get Kids Hooked on Books

Want to help your kids become readers? When they’re little, give them board books and read aloud to them. When they’re bigger, get them library cards, and leave books in every room. If your kid becomes an enthusiastic reader, start a parent-child book club, and seek out author events at community bookstores. Even if your kids aren’t natural bookworms, let them see you reading newspapers, magazines, and books. Give books as gifts too, whether to newborn babies, college grads, or friends turning fifty. If children see that you value books, sooner or later, they may just acquire a taste for reading that will serve them well all their lives.

  • read with your children
  • get them a library card
  • leave books and magazines around
  • keep a reading record or journal or start a book club
  • set designated reading times and let kids see you read

  • criticize their reading choices
  • tell them a book is just for girls or just for boys
  • make it too easy for kids to play games instead of reading
  • make a child feel bad about not being a bookworm


Do read with your children

It’s never too early to read to your kids. Did your mom or dad read to you? If so, it’s probably a sweet memory. Reading to babies and kids gives you a time of closeness and helps kids build vocabulary from the start. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading aloud to your infant. Give your baby board books, not just rattles or stuffed animals. Snuggle up with your infant or toddler and enjoy reading together.

Do get them a library card

You know the expression “like a kid in a candy store”? Libraries are even better for growing minds and bodies, and a child with a library card feels empowered. How often do kids get to choose what they want to read and exercise free rein? Next time you have an extra hour while you’re waiting for a sibling to finish tutoring or swim practice, spend it in the library. It’s a cozy, happy, place and a good habit to instill. (Bookstores are great too!)

Do leave books and magazines around

Many parents lament that their school-age kids don’t read for pleasure. The solution may be simply to leave the right “bait” around. Even kids who think they don’t like to read will succumb to a strategically-placed Snoopy, Spiderman, Sports Illustrated, or Seventeen on the kitchen counter or in the bedroom or bathroom. Girl magazines are like catnip for preteens. If you ask your teen daughter if she’d like a copy of Girltalk or a subscription to GL or Seventeen or Teen Vogue, she may say no. But if you leave a copy at her bedside, she’ll jump in. Make it easy for kids to dive into reading.

Do keep a reading record or journal or start a book club

Some kids get motivated if you write down the names of the book they read or put gold stars on calendars. Other families find that starting a book club can make a big difference. Get a book club going with each of your children when they are old enough to read longer books. Pick a book that is a good fit for both you and your child based on age and interest. Going for a classic can never hurt, like Charlotte’s Web or The Giver. Avoid heavy reads or school books. The goal is to bond over books.

Do set designated reading times and let kids see you read

Why not establish a family reading time during which everyone reads for thirty minutes? After dinner? Before bed? Sunday before brunch? Turn off the electronics please. When kids see parents curled up with books (or even newspapers), they know their parents value reading.


Do not criticize their reading choices

Rather than tell a child that a book is too easy for him, just let him enjoy reading. There’s nothing wrong with getting lost in comic books, graphic novels, sports biographies, etc. and a boy who learns to enjoy reading will be an adult who cares about books. And when a book seems too hard or too advanced or adult? Okay, in this case, say, “I bet you’ll like that even more when you are older” and steer them to more age-appropriate fare.

Do not tell them a book is just for girls or just for boys

No one tells girls that Harry Potter is for boys only, and you shouldn’t tell a boy that a book is just for girls. In fact, when a boy reads a book about girls, even a diary, this can help him learn more about the wider world. Girls and boys can learn a lot from whatever books interest them, and when there are strong male or strong female characters, so much the better. Look too for books with diversity and multicultural settings and characters. Reading is learning.

Do not make it too easy for kids to play games instead of reading

If you automatically hand a child a phone when he or she acts bored or fussy, the child will quickly get used to playing games. If, however, you hand little children books rather than devices, they’ll read instead of play. Some families keep devices on high shelves to help kids resist temptation. Strive to make it easy for kids to develop the habit of reading and harder for them to get into mindless games.

Do not make a child feel bad about not being a bookworm

If your child is not a natural born reader, that’s still OK. Some kids have other strengths and passions. Keep encouraging reading and keep tempting reading material handy. Is your child reading a book in English that interests you? Great. Ask about it in a friendly casual way. In general, your goal is to help your kids feel good about who they are and to help them become their best selves.


Some kids are born bookworms. Some need a little encouragement. If you read to your child and have family reading times and leave enticing books around, your reluctant reader may just come around. Anna Karenina, anyone?


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

17 Books Bill Gates Thinks Everyone Should Read

While Bill Gates has a schedule that's planned down to the minute, the entrepreneur-turned-billionaire-humanitarian still gobbles up about a book a week.

Aside from a handful of novels, they're mostly nonfiction books covering his and his foundation's broad range of interests. A lot of them are about transforming systems: how nations can intelligently develop, how to lead an organization, and how social change can fruitfully happen.

We went through the past five years of his book criticism to find the ones that he gave glowing reviews and that changed his perspective.

'Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012' by Carol Loomis

Warren Buffett and Gates have a famously epic bromance, what with their recommending books to
each other and spearheading philanthropic campaigns together.

So it's no surprise that Gates enjoyed "Tap Dancing to Work," a collection of articles and essays about and by Buffett, compiled by Fortune magazine journalist Carol Loomis.

Gates says that anyone who reads the book cover-to-cover will walk away with two main impressions:

First, how Warren's been incredibly consistent in applying his vision and investment principles over the duration of his career;

[S]econdly, that his analysis and understanding of business and markets remains unparalleled. I wrote in 1996 that I'd never met anyone who thought about business in such a clear way. That is certainly still the case.

Getting into the mind of Buffett is "an extremely worthwhile use of time," Gates concludes.

'Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization' by Vaclav Smil

Gates says his favorite author is Vaclav Smil, an environmental-sciences professor who writes big
 histories of things like energy and innovation.

His latest is "Making the Modern World." It got Gates thinking.

"It might seem mundane, but the issue of materials — how much we use and how much we need — is key to helping the world’s poorest people improve their lives," he writes. "Think of the amazing increase in quality of life that we saw in the United States and other rich countries in the past 100 years. We want most of that miracle to take place for all of humanity over the next 50 years."

To know where we're going, Gates says, we need to know where we've been — and Smil is one of his favorite sources for learning that.

'The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History' by Elizabeth Kolbert

It can be easy to forget that our present day is a part of world history. Gates says that New Yorker
writer Elizabeth Kolbert's new book "The Sixth Extinction" helps correct that.

"Humans are putting down massive amounts of pavement, moving species around the planet, over-fishing and acidifying the oceans, changing the chemical composition of rivers, and more," Gates writes, echoing a concern that he voices in many of his reviews.

"Natural scientists posit that there have been five extinction events in the Earth's history (think of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs)," he continues, "and Kolbert makes a compelling case that human activity is leading to the sixth."

To get a hint of Kolbert's reporting, check out the series of stories that preceded the book's publication.

'Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises' by Tim Geithner

Gates stood at the center of an enormously complex system as CEO of Microsoft. Timothy Geithner
did much the same as US Treasury secretary — and saw the structure fall down around him during the financial crisis.

"Geithner paints a compelling human portrait of what it was like to be fighting a global financial meltdown while at the same time fighting critics inside and outside the Administration as well as his own severe guilt over his near-total absence from his family," Gates says. "The politics of fighting financial crises will always be ugly. But it helps if the public knows a little more about the subject."

"Stress Test" provides that knowledge.

'The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined' by Steven Pinker

In "Better Angels," Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker branches out into the history of the
most contentious of subjects: violence.

Gates says it's one of the most important books he's ever read.

"Pinker presents a tremendous amount of evidence that humans have gradually become much less violent and much more humane," he says, in a trend that started thousands of years ago and continued until this day.

This isn't just ivory-tower theory. Gates says the book has affected his humanitarian work.

"As I'm someone who's fairly optimistic in general," he says, "the book struck a chord with me and got me to thinking about some of our foundation's strategies."

'The Man Who Fed the World' by Leon Hesser

Even though Gates can get a meeting with almost anyone, he can't land a sit-down with Norman
Borlaug, the late biologist and humanitarian who led the "Green Revolution" — a series of innovations that kept a huge chunk of humanity from starving.

"Although a lot of people have never heard of Borlaug, he probably saved more lives than anyone else in history," Gates says. "It's estimated that his new seed varieties saved a billion people from starvation," many of whom were in India and Pakistan.

Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal for his efforts — and is one of only seven people to receive that honor.

For Gates, Borlaug is a model in getting important work done in the world.

"Borlaug was one-of-a-kind," he says, "equally skilled in the laboratory, mentoring young scientists, and cajoling reluctant bureaucrats and government officials."

Hesser's "The Man Who Fed the World" lets you peer into the personality that saved a billion lives.

'Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street' by John Brooks

Back in 1991, Gates asked Buffett what his favorite book was.

To reply, Buffett sent the Microsoft founder his personal copy of "Business Adventures," a collection of New Yorker stories by John Brooks.

Though the anecdotes are from half a century ago, the book remains Gates' favorite.

Gates says that the book serves as a reminder that the principles for building a winning business stay constant. He writes:

For one thing, there's an essential human factor in every business endeavor. It doesn't matter if you have a perfect product, production plan and marketing pitch; you'll still need the right people to lead and implement those plans.

Learning of the affections that Gates and Buffett have for this title, the business press has fallen similarly in love with the book. Slate quipped that "Business Adventures" is "catnip for billionaires."

'The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism' by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Like us, Gates is fascinated by the way Theodore Roosevelt was able to affect his society: busting
trusts, setting up a park system, and the like.

For this reason, Gates appreciates how Goodwin's biography uses the presidency as a lens for understanding the shift of society.

"How does social change happen?" Gates asks in his review. "Can it be driven by a single inspirational leader, or do other factors have to lay the groundwork first?"

He says that TR shows how many stakeholders need to be involved.

"Although he tried to push through a number of political reforms earlier in his career," Gates says, "[Roosevelt] wasn't really successful until journalists at 'McClure's' and other publications had rallied public support for change."

'The Rosie Project: A Novel' by Graeme Simsion

Gates doesn't review a lot of fiction, but "The Rosie Project," which came on the recommendation of
his wife, Melinda, is an oddly perfect fit.

"Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife," he writes. "(Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.)"

The book is funny, clever, and moving, Gates says, to the point that he read it in one sitting.

‘On Immunity’ by Eula Biss

Even though the science all says that vaccines are among the most important inventions in human
history, there's still a debate about whether they're a good idea.

In "On Immunity," essayist Eula Biss pulls apart that argument.

She "uses the tools of literary analysis, philosophy, and science to examine the speedy, inaccurate rumors about childhood vaccines that have proliferated among well-meaning American parents," Gates writes. "Biss took up this topic not for academic reasons but because of her new role as a mom."

‘How Asia Works’ by Joe Studwell

Joe Studwell is a business journalist whose central mission is understanding "development."

The Financial Times said that "How Asia Works" is "the first book to offer an Asia-wide deconstruction of success and failure in economic development."

Gates says that the book's thesis goes like this:

All the countries that become development success stories (1) create conditions for small farmers to thrive, (2) use the proceeds from agricultural surpluses to build a manufacturing base that is tooled from the start to produce exports, and (3) nurture both these sectors with financial institutions closely controlled by the government.

‘How to Lie with Statistics’ by Darrell Huff

Published in 1954, "How to Lie with Statistics" is an introduction to statistics — and a primer on how they can be manipulated.

It's "more relevant than ever," Gates says.

"One chapter shows you how visuals can be used to exaggerate trends and give distorted comparisons," he says. "It's a timely reminder, given how often infographics show up in your Facebook and Twitter feeds these days."

‘Epic Measures’ by Jeremy Smith

Reading this biography was especially meaningful for Gates because he's known its subject, a doctor named Chris Murray, for more than a decade.

According to Gates, the book is a "highly readable account for anyone who wants to know more about Chris's work and why it matters."

That work involves creating the Global Burden of Disease, a public website that gathers data on the causes of human illness and death from researchers around the world. The idea is that we can't begin finding cures for health issues if we don't even know what those issues are.

Writes Gates: "As Epic Measures shows, the more we make sure reliable information gets out there, the better decisions we all can make, and the more impact we all can have."

‘Stuff Matters’ by Mark Miodownik

If you're like most people, you use steel razors, glass cups, and paper notepads every day without thinking much about the materials they're made of.

In "Stuff Matters," Miodownik, a materials scientist, aims to show you why the science behind those materials is so fascinating.

That premise might sound similar to "Making the Modern World," a book by Gates' favorite author Smil, which Gates has also recommended. But Gates says the two works are "completely different." While Smil is a "facts-and-numbers guy," Miodownik is "heavy on romance and very light on numbers," potentially making "Stuff Matters" an easier read.

Gates claims his favorite chapter is the one on carbon, "which offers insights into one atom's massive past, present, and future role in human life."

‘Hyperbole and a Half’ by Allie Brosh

It might be hard to imagine Gates curled up with a book of comic drawings. But "Hyperbole and a Half," based on the blog by the same name, is more moving and profound than it is silly.

The stories and drawings in the book are based on scenes from Brosh's life, as well as her imagined misadventures.

"It's funny and smart as hell," Gates writes, adding that "Brosh's stories feel incredibly — and sometimes brutally — real."

Gates was especially moved by the parts of the book that touch on Brosh's struggles with severe depression, including a series of images about her attempts to leave an appropriate suicide note.

It's a rare book that can simultaneously make you laugh, cry, and think existential thoughts — but this one seems to do it.

‘What If?’ by Randall Munroe

Another book based on a blog, "What If?" is a collection of cartoon-illustrated answers to hypothetical scientific questions.

Those questions range from the dystopian ("What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool?") to the philosophical ("What if everyone actually had only one soul mate, a random person somewhere in the world?") Each question was posed by a different reader, and Munroe, a former roboticist for NASA, goes to the greatest lengths to answer it accurately through research and interviews.

Gates writes:
The reason Munroe's approach is a great way to learn about science is that he takes ideas that everybody understands in a general way and then explores what happens when you take those ideas to their limits. For example, we all know pretty much what gravity is. But what if Earth's gravity were twice as strong as it is? What if it were three times as strong, or a hundred? Looking at the question in that way makes you start to think about gravity a little differently.

For anyone who's ever wished there were someone to indulge and investigate their secret scientific fantasies, this book comes in handy.

‘Should We Eat Meat?’ by Vaclav Smil

Gates isn’t shy about proclaiming Smil, a professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, his favorite author. In fact, he's recommended several of Smil's books before.

As usual, Gates writes, Smil attacks the issue of whether humans should consume meat from every possible angle. First he tries to define meat, then he looks at its role in human evolution, as well as how much meat each country consumes, the health and environmental risks, and the ethicality of raising animals for slaughter.

Gates, who was a vegetarian for a year during his 20s, is especially impressed by how Smil uses science to debunk common misconceptions, like the idea that raising meat for food involves a tremendous amount of water.

In fact, Gates writes:
Smil shows you how the picture is more complicated. It turns out that not all water is created equal. Nearly 90 percent of the water needed for livestock production is what's called green water, used to grow grass and such. In most places, all but a tiny fraction of green water comes from rain, and because most green water eventually evaporates back into the atmosphere, it's not really consumed.

Overall, the book left Gates feeling that eventually, "the world can meet its need for meat."