PITTSBURG — Why not put a book under the tree this year?
Everyone has their own Christmas tradition. Johanna Bennetts’ family tradition is “12 books of Christmas.”
For 12 days following Christmas Day her two children, aged eight and 10, unwrap a book to read together as a family. Some people with a similar tradition do it as Christmas advent calendar.
“It’s like an extra present,” Bennetts said.
She keeps the Christmas books separate from the other books in their home and when the Christmas season is over they tuck them away with the decorations.
Books have always been in Bennetts’ home starting back when she was a child.
“I’ve always loved books,” she said. “I was born and raised in a family that loved reading.”
Now she shares this love of reading with her own children and with other students at area schools. Dubbed “The Book Lady,” she started a blog called Mothering by the Books and began working for Usborne Books a few years ago. Bennetts also volunteers as a book reader at schools and the Crawford County Historical Museum.
On Saturday Bennetts read a book called “The Nutcracker” at the Crawford County Museum.
“It’s a great Christmas story, it’s a good length to read to children of all different ages,” she said.
Bennetts had an idea to encourage other parents to read to their children after volunteering at her children’s schools. As a thank you gift for volunteering, Bennetts received a book called “The Read-Aloud Handbook” written by Jim Trelease. Bennett said she agreed with Trelease about how important it is to read aloud to children.
According to the book, nearly 100 percent of children in kindergarten have an interest in reading a book outside of school. By fourth grade that percentage is approximately split in half at 54 percent and by grade 12 less than 20 percent of children are interested in reading a book outside of school.
“What changed in fourth grade? Parents stopped reading to their kids,” Bennetts said.
Reading helps children scholastically, Bennetts said, adding that books also teach children empathy.
“They have these experiences through books of people who are different from them and how to relate to that,” she said.
Books can help with parenting, Bennetts said. For example, she sometimes references a character named Auggie from the book “Wonder” written by R.J. Palacio. She asks her children how they thought Auggie would have felt.
“They are able to have a connection with the story and use it in their own lives,” Bennetts said.
Bennetts provided a few tips for parents. She said to leave a collection of books out where children can see the covers, a basket someplace in a central room where people are makes a good spot for books. Children will find these books and open them up from time to time when they are bored, she said. Bennetts also recommended parents to start reading to children early to not only strengthen language development but also to create memories and bonds with their child.