I was at my cousin’s the other night, playing video games and drinking his booze, when I noticed my little cousin (his daughter) flipping through the stack of books she was reading: The Land of Stories, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc.. Suddenly, it was bedtime, and as she shuffled away towards her room, having sadly abandoned her books on the couch – I realized I had an opportunity to perform a senior cousin duty. I pulled her aside for a quick whisper:
“You got a flashlight in your room?”
“You can use that flashlight to read in bed even after it’s lights-out.”
“… ohh… oh yeah!”
So she slyly scoops up her books and continues her now faux-depressed egress to sleepy-time. And that’s it; my work on planet Earth is done. I have passed on the sacred knowledge.
And what better time for teaching ruthless, subversive book habits to kids, then during the long winter months, when they’re already keened with anticipation at those book-shaped objects sitting under the tree (or still unwrapped in the hall closet “hidden” behind the extra vacuum cleaner bags, duh)? Here is a short-list of wicked holiday reading practices for kids, for you to hand them directly or teach them yourself – but only if you’re one of the cool adults, prepared to pass on the sacred knowledge.
– Read under the covers with a flashlight. [Note: The advanced technique is to use some type of flashlight that doesn’t look like a flashlight, maybe a Harry Potter light wand or a Hello Kitty with eye lasers – just something that lights up but can hide in plain sight when not in use. Those 18 inch Maglights are powerful, but they’re a dead giveaway and may be too heavy.]
– When you wake up in the morning, stay in bed to read. Tell the adults to bring you your breakfast. Remind them it’s their job to feed and educate you.
– If you get any lame gifts, immediately ask for the receipts. You might be able to exchange them for books. Example of a lame gift: some kind of toy. Toys are for babies. Get that receipt, and go get a book. Exceptions: Legos, a cool bike, non-button-mashing games (board, card, or video). Almost everything else is lame, especially clothing. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for the receipt; they should be embarrassed for getting you a lame gift. Make sure you say “thank you” when – but not before – they give you the receipt.
– Build a fort, and read inside it. Adults will usually not bug you if you’re inside a fort. They just want you to stay quietly occupied most of the time anyway. In fact, they’ll probably forget you exist, which is what you want while you’re reading.
– Sometimes adults have dumb ideas about which books are good and which are silly (how would they know?), and they’ll try to force you to read things you’re not interested in. But think about this: does reading make you better in school? Yes, reading makes you better in school. SO, no matter what book you want to read, tell the adults “it’s for school”, and they will leave you alone. It doesn’t have to be actual homework, ok? Get it? You’re saying something that is technically true, but is meant to be a sort of trick – what you are actually thinking about in your head is different from what you want the adults to think about (and believe). This is called equivocating, and adults do it all the time. (Equivocating is a type of lying, but you wouldn’t even know that if you weren’t reading this right now – so if they want you to not do bad things like equivocate, they should just back off and let you read so you’ll learn, right? Exactly.) Anyway, tell them it’s for school.
– If your family gives gifts during the holidays, don’t wait for your parents to ask what you want. What usually happens is they filter that information to other people who might give you gifts. You have no control over how they filter that information. Also, they have no constitutional right to filter your gift list, but good luck telling that to a judge, who is maybe also an adult. What you should do is directly contact your people and tell them specifically which books you want – call them, email them – whatever it takes to get them the information. Again: send your book list directly to your people. A few might say it’s “rude” or “presumptuous”, and others will say it “shows initiative”. It doesn’t matter. Get the books you want by asking for them. That is how things work.
– If you have to go to some lame adult holiday party, sneak a book with you. When your parents discover that you’ve brought a book, they’ll say things like “you should be talking to people”, but they won’t really be mad. When everyone fawns on you for being “such a great little reader”, you’ll notice your parents pretending to be mildly embarrassed. They are not. They will think it’s really about what great parents they are. That whole scene is really annoying, but you can ignore all that and just read.
– If you’re traveling somewhere – flying or driving – make sure you pack extra books. If your parents try to limit the number of books you bring, this could be another chance to equivocate. Let’s pretend your dad says “You can only take 3 books.” You would then point at your suitcase and say “I can only put 3 books in the suitcase?” He will say yes. Now – here’s the thing – adults do not really understand how smart you are. So, your dad will not suspect that what you are going to do is put 3 books in that suitcase, then put 2 more books in another smaller bag. THEN, put that smaller bag in the suitcase. If you get caught with 5 books, you can say “But dad – I only put 3 books in the suitcase, just like you said” and your dad will say “But what about those other two books?” and you will act a little bit confused and say, “Oh, but they were in this other bag”. See? It’s technically correct, but also sneaky and not true at all. If you do this kind of thing as an adult, you’ll either become very powerful or go to prison – or both. But for sneaking a few extra books on a trip, it’s fine.
– If you have younger brothers/sisters/cousins and some adult puts you in charge of watching them (this is the worst thing, of course), instead of doing what the kids want to do, read your book out loud to them. Adults will think it’s cute, which is annoying, and the kids might not want to listen, but who cares? You’re reading.
– This is not actually reading, but it’s close. When it comes time to write Thank You notes for any gifts you received, write a story instead, and send the same story to everyone. This may seem like more work, but think about it: you can write 20 notes that say something like, “Thank you for the dumb sweater, I love you grandma” or whatever OR you can write one short story and send it to 20 people. At the beginning or end you just add something like “Thanks for the thing, I wrote this for you…” and you can print it up on the computer. Soooo much easier, plus it’s less boring, plus they might even like it better.
Those are just a few of the basics, and you’ll want to add any tricks you picked up yourself over the years. Keep the supply of books and batteries flowing, and follow up on the kids’ training. Most importantly – if the kid uses any of these tricks on you, just be proud.