How to Use Reading to Inspire Writing

"Reading is like breathing in, and writing is like breathing out." This is how LitWorld's Founder Pam Allyn beautifully captures the interconnected nature of reading and writing. Reading brings new ideas, perspectives and worldviews. Writing is how we send our own voice, hopes, wonderings and opinions into the world. Captivating books act as mentors for a child's own writing and provide valuable guidance on how to tell stories and craft strong ideas. This all happens in real time which is why writing and reading are most impactful when practiced together. Here are five ways to use reading to inspire your child's writing life this summer.

1. Bring characters to life.

Book lovers know that characters don't simply exist within the pages of a book. They have personalities and plans for the future just like us. Their stories impact our lives and they are lasting friends who accompany us through life's journeys. Emphasize the multi-dimensional lives of characters by encouraging your child to go beyond the words on the page and fall deeply into a character's world. Encourage this through fun and short writing prompts: "What songs would Anne of Green Gables have on her iPod playlist?" "If Clifford the Big Red Dog were going on vacation, what would he pack in his suitcase?" "What would you tell Scaredy Squirrel to make him feel brave?" Your child is already imagining a character's life in vivid detail, capture all of this on the page (or iPad).

2. Take a stand.

So many books, poems and blogs are written because an author has a strong opinion that she wants to share with as many people as possible. Your child is also passionate about so many things and should practice expressing these opinions from the earliest age. This sends the message her voice and stories matter - to you, to the community and to the world. Standing up for her beliefs will become a natural, lifelong habit of civic engagement and self-expression. 

Guide your child to find an author's deeper reason for writing by asking: "What does the author want her readers to know? What does she want her readers to do after reading her words?" Have your child jot down some ideas or model your own thinking to get the ball rolling. Then make another list titled, "The Things I Care About." Have your child write a short list of the people, places and things she is passionate about. She may want the world to know that she has the best sister in the whole world. She may be upset by litter on the playground. Have her craft a longer journal entry, blog post or letter to the editor based on this list. 

3. Practice being a grateful, curious reader.

Reading will leave your child with questions for the author of a book. Why did the character do this instead of that? What happens next for a character? Does the character reach her goals? Channel all of this into a letter to the author. Thanks to our amazingly connected world you can track down where to mail or email a letter through a publisher's website (or in some cases an author will share contact information on her personal website). Also consider connecting over Twitter or a Facebook fan page. Beyond her curiosity about the book, encourage your child to share gratitude for writing the book. It will make an author's day to know that they've had a positive impact on your child's reading life. 

4. Spread reading joy.

We think one of the most satisfying feelings is recommending the perfect book to the perfect person. Knowing the wonderful reading journey that awaits a friend or family member sends reading joy out into the world. This practice also means that we are thinking deeply about our loved ones and matching their interests and perspectives to the larger theme of a book. This is important work. Your child has wonderful intuition and can use this to be a giver of reading magic. After he finishes a book ask him, "Who should read this book next? Why?" He should write his "pitch" to the lucky reader of his choice in a letter, an email, tweet or through a reading community website like Goodreads. This is a beautiful way of "paying it forward."

5. Read, reflect, record.

Stories live on in us long after we've finished the last page. They change us in small ways, and when we're lucky, in life-changing ways. Reflecting on what we've read brings all of this to the surface and helps us read with purpose and intent. Building regular reflection habits throughout the reading process allows your child to capture feelings, observations and questions while he's reading so that he can return and reference them later and nothing will be forgotten. Use post-its, a small notebook or a note-taking app on your iPad for him to write favorite passages, page numbers or things to Google when he's done reading. Also set up a simple chart for him to keep a lists of what he's learned because of a particular book, or things that he now feels differently about because of a book.