As a parent, grandparent or teacher, you are most likely aware of how important reading is for a child's development on many levels. But it's also essential for planting the seeds for leadership skills in our kids. Reading expands the mind in ways that few other activities can.
For leaders to be effective, they need to be broad-minded. They need to be compassionate. And they need to understand and empathize with people who are different from themselves. When children read, they exercise all these mental muscles. Young children learn to navigate emotions and experiences outside of their insulated world through seeing how a character in a picture book deals with making a new friend, starting school, or banishing a monster from his closet. Often, these books use humor, silly (and very exaggerated) situations, or animal characters to make their points. These literary devices allow young children to immerse themselves in the stories without the situations being too painfully realistic.
As children start reading on their own, easy readers (designed with simple sentences and vocabulary) give them a strong sense of accomplishment. The stories often center around school, friends and family, so readers see their lives reflected in their books. But nonfiction is also a favorite of kids at this age. They are sponges, soaking up knowledge of their world, and should be free to explore and discover topics that excite them. When elementary school children fall in love with a subject, they go all in. It's up to the adults in their lives to support this enthusiasm and allow kids to become "experts" in the topic. The confidence that comes from feeling comfortable with a subject overflows into other areas of school and social interactions.
Middle school and high school students have access to books that intimately explore the lives of characters very different from themselves. These books give readers a chance to vicariously walk in someone else's shoes. They give insight into the thought process, motivations and struggles of a person their age from another culture, religion, time period or family situation, and help to broaden teen minds. The building blocks of compassion, diplomacy and empathy are formed—skills all leaders need.
And finally, books can be a child's best friend. Kids who are experiencing tough situations in their own lives find kindred souls in the characters of books, and see how those characters handle the same situations. Books provide an escape from life's stresses—something we all need, no matter our age. And books provide heroes for readers to be inspired by and emulate.
If your child needs help finding the perfect book, ask your local librarian. Or, consult some of the Notable Book lists from the American Library Association. And if you are interested in writing for children yourself, visit my site www.writeforkids.org and get my free ebook, 11 Steps to Writing Your First Children's Book.
Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book Insider, The Children's Writing Monthly, and is a 28 year veteran of the children's book industry.