Reading Testimonial: The Good Earth, A Good Book

I’ve decided to ix-nay the cutesy categories that correspond to the day of the week. It was too constraining, and I was struggling with making posts fit into categories. I’m going to be way more organic and true-to-reality with the categories, as they come together.

Today I want to feature the first of what I anticipate to be many “reading testimonials”*, which are basically vignettes from regular people throughout Gracepoint ministries sharing their own stories of a powerful reading experience. Some are from long ago, and some are more recent. And some may or may not include a mini-review of specific books. To kick it off is a story from Sophia, who is serving on staff in our Praxis ministry at Gracepoint Berkeley church.

I was never a strong reader as a child and never had much interest in reading.  The fact that I was an immigrant kid trying to learn English growing up did not help either. Then as an adult, I was always too busy to read for pleasure. As a parent, I saw that my daughter was also not fond of reading, but accepted it as a given, and that she was just like me. Recently, I wanted to motivate my daughter to read more, so I tried managing her time better by requiring her to read for X amount of hours after school.  But I saw that I was doing something that I would not like to be put upon myself at that age! Then I tried rewarding her for reading books and allowed her to choose her own books, despite my own opinion about the books.  That effort gained some traction because she was motivated by the reward and the books she chose were interesting enough. I also started reading with her whenever I could; she would read one page and I the next. Through another conversation with Emily, I decided to try to lead by example rather than just telling her to read and not do it myself.

thegoodearth_coverTherefore, out of my love for my child, I picked up the book The Good Earth by Pearl Buck from the Bibliopolis Adult Extension bookshelf. I was not sure how much time I would have to read for pleasure; all I knew was that I have always been curious about some of the famous books but never got time to actually read them. I wanted to know what a Nobel-prize winning author writes like.  And to my complete surprise, I was hooked once I started reading. I couldn’t put the book down.

As a Chinese growing up both in Taiwan and America, I was impressed by the detailed yet succinct way in which Pearl Buck described the Chinese sentiment. Her observations about the irony of human life cycle and the weakness of man in the face of temptation made a deep impression on me as a Christian. Wang Lung is a poor but upwardly mobile farmer trying to raise a family during a time when the rich seem to have all the blessings from the gods, and the poor are stuck in their relentless cycle of poverty. But through hard work and some luck, he slowly becomes rich. The irony is that the problems he faces after becoming rich – the temptations he faces as a man and the family quarrels – were much sadder for me to read than the struggles he has as a poor man. Wang Lung never loses his love for the earth, yet he is, after all, a mere man and gives into his lust and self-justifying voices. Moreover, he has no higher authorities to look to except the two earthen figures to which he gives some incense from time to time, but does not hold back in spitting upon when he feels like it. Despite everything, he is a likable figure and an accurate portrayal of a good, hard-working Chinese. At the end of the story, Wang’s life is eerily similar to those he envied in the first place.

The book helped me to have a greater appreciation for  the cultural struggles that took place in China in the past one hundred years.  It gave me a greater understading and greater sympathy for the Chinese people, even though I am a Chinese myself.  I think it’s a must read for all who are interested in getting to know the Chinese people of today!

More than that, I am surprised by how hooked I got on the book. After finishing it, I decided to check out Between Shades of Gray, after reading Elise’s review and watching the video with the author. I’m reading that now!

Can you relate to Sophia’s story at all? Are you someone who “discovered” reading once you became a parent? Have you ever stumbled upon a great book in an effort to model reading for your child? Or when trying to find a good book for someone else, you found one you liked?  

*If you have a catchy category title for this type of post, I’m open to suggestions.



How do I “get” my child to read?! (Part 1)

You’ve noticed by now that the questions the parents here at Gracepoint Berkeley church ask me are pretty much permutations of the same central question. But today I want to focus on the “getting” your child to read. But before you read on, be sure to watch the video from the post about Daniel Pink’s book Drive. You’ll see that my list today focuses mostly on the principle of “autonomy.”

Here is my super long list of ways to get your child to read:

#1 CHOICE. Allow them to choose what they read. If you want them to develop a love for reading, they need to read what they love. Telling them, “Read this. It’s a good book.” will rarely work. Consistent with the human condition, most (if not all) children, especially teens, will not want to read it simply because you recommended it. EVEN if they were thinking of reading it before you said anything. (Even when kids ask me what they should read, I usually give them a stack of books to choose from.)

Resist the temptation to say, “That’s too easy for your grade level” or “You should be* reading _____ by now.” Your child is forced to read books with his or her class, and their teachers are choosing books they deem appropriate for their developmental stage. If reading a book you think is “too easy” for your child gets him or her hooked on reading, maybe even FOR LIFE, it’s totally worth it, wouldn’t you say?

Your child is apt to read more if they feel confident as a reader, so give them the time and space to develop their confidence through reading what they choose. Trust me that in time, they’ll push themselves to read more challenging books. It’s in our nature (future post to follow).

#2 FLOODING. As in a “book flood.” One of the reasons I invested hundreds of dollars (if not more) in my classroom library was because I firmly believe that if kids are surrounded by reading materials of all genres, they are more likely to find something they like, and therefore more likely to read it. What this means for you doesn’t necessarily mean spending hundreds of dollars on books! It might mean making trips to a local bookstore, used bookstore, and/or library, and making that a “thing” you do together.

As a side note, this is the reason I have worked pretty hard at creating a space kids want to be in over at Bibliopolis. I want them to love being there, and definitely want them to be surrounded by books so they’ll always associate books with something special or even slightly magical, or at the very least, something positive!

#3 MODELING. The more your child sees YOU reading for pleasure, they will see reading as a pleasurable activity. You know by now that your kids notice everything you do and say. Sometimes they can even imitate the way you do and say it!  This means that they are aware of your relationship (or non-relationship) with books. Studies around kids and technology reveal that one of the biggest frustrations they have is that their parents are hypocrites when it comes to technology.

The same goes for reading. Your kids know if you’re just telling, or even forcing, them to read, but you never do it yourself. Even though we’re all super busy, please believe me when I say that developing your own reading life, and sharing that with your kids, is one of the most powerful ways you can influence your child to be a reader.

You don’t always have to read aloud to your child, which some feel too pressed for time to do regularly. But what I’m suggesting is a win-win! You can read whatever you’ve been meaning to read** — fiction, non-fiction, apologetics, biographies, poetry — and you can spend time with your kid while they’re reading their book too.

And there you have it. That’s my list. My teaching colleagues often asked me how I got my students to be such book nerds. And I always tell them the above three things. I let my students choose what to read, out of a gazillion books that they have access to right there in the classroom, and I constantly talk about the variety of books I’m reading, regularly doing book talks, asking them about what they’re reading, encouraging lively conversations and even arguments around books, and making it a priority to set aside “sacred time” for silent reading all together (including me) every day.

What strategies or practices have you tried to “get” your child to read? How did you become a reader yourself? Looking forward to sharing our reading successes!




*We impose our “should be’s” on others!

**Try to read something that’s in physical book form.

The Return of the Blog, and a photo

Things have been ever busy here at Gracepoint Berkeley church, so it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. After an initial set of posts, you might have thought I forgot about this here blog. Anyone in the blogosphere will tell you that consistency is one of the keys to building a readership, so I’ve got a lot of building to do!

Since today is Wednesday, here’s a wordless celebration of reading for you!

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Some leisure reading time during babysitting. These two (daughters of educators!) are proof you’re never too young to discover the joy of reading.

Next week, I’ll be visiting Gracepoint Irvine church to help with their Fall Welcome Week*, so I will try my best to schedule some posts ahead of time so I don’t go MIA again!


*This does mean Bibliopolis will be closed during 9/21-9/25.