Dickinson, Amy. "Fiction Drills," Time Magazine, June 21, 1999.

Every June my daughter's school distributes an ambitious list of books that students in each grade are required to read over the summer. She and I were thrilled to see that this year's titles include Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling, sequel to last year's sensational Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. So last week we raced to our favorite bookstore to snap up a copy. As we drove home, my daughter cracked it open and started reading aloud. She laughed. She chortled. She did an English accent. And I enjoyed one of those shining moments when you realize that despite your parental shortcomings, things have turned out the way they're supposed to.

First, a confession: I never enjoyed reading aloud to my kid. There--I said it. Every day for her first five years, I dutifully read stories starring mice dressed in little sailor suits or giraffes with self-esteem issues. I read nursery rhymes and Bible stories. When required, I employed a squeaky voice or spoke in one of my (two) accents. Some nights I would fall asleep on her bed with a storybook spread like a tent over my face, dreaming of dragons and rabbits with pocket watches. But reading aloud always made me feel like an actor in a play about good parenting. I looked forward to the time when my daughter could read to herself.

Not surprisingly, she grew into a dutiful, uninspired reader. I tried to steer her toward the books I had loved as a child--the ones I read by flashlight under the covers--but she never took to Little House on the Prairie or Nancy Drew. She didn't seem to enjoy biographies of sports legends or suffragettes, as I had at her age. She treated reading much as I did--like a job.

Last summer she plodded through the required reading list as if it was one long, dreadful homework assignment. By August she was only midway through the first of four novels. And that's when I became the commandant of our reading boot camp. Every day I set aside at least an hour for reading fiction. We turned off the TV and radio and hung out together, reading. My daughter read E.B. White. I read Elmore Leonard and Walker Percy. I asked her about The Trumpet of the Swan. She quizzed me about Chili Palmer.

Our reading program worked out well. My daughter started fourth grade with a clean slate, and we both formed a daily habit of reading fiction. Last fall we joined with some other mothers and daughters from school and formed a book group. Working from a list provided by a local bookstore, we choose titles appropriate for adolescents and read them together. Once a month we meet at the home of one of the members to eat pizza and discuss our book. Some of the observations are startling, some banal. But the talk is always lively, and we like it so much that we've decided to continue the group through summer and into the next school year.

The best thing about the book group for my daughter and me is the pleasure of reading the same book at the same time. This spring we discovered Harry Potter together--reading back and forth from our one copy. I hadn't really shared a book with her since those early days, when I was the reluctant performer in our nightly reading ritual. Finally my daughter has discovered the interior joy of reading. And I'm thankful that she's passed it on to me.

Source: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,991303,00.html

Original page date 28 June 2007; last updated 28 June 2007.