The Whys and Hows of Creating a Reading Den

Book nooks, reading corners, story snugs... whatever you call them, it's really worth finding the time and space for one at home. Can I invite you somewhere special, somewhere fun, where the possibility of an adventure or magical encounter is just around the corner? Reading Dens are one of the best invitations I know to entice children to pick up a book. Here's why and how book dens regularly pop up in my home:

Why?

Building and being in a book den is fun!

I want my kids to associate reading with all the good things in life. I want the arrival of a new book in our home, or the prospect of some time to read, to excite and enthuse my kids. Creating a special place to read does just that by bringing some pizzazz and added wow factor to story time.

I want my kids to associate reading with all the good things in life

Book nooks ease the discovery of new books and refresh visits to old favourites

By disrupting the same-old, same-old routine and introducing books and reading into new spaces, I regularly see kids engage with their books in different ways. Often, they will be more willing to try something new. Make the most of this by sneaking in some new bookish fare - perhaps some comics or magazines, or non-fiction about one of their hobbies. Alternatively, leave a stack of audiobooks and a CD player in the den and let your kids nest down with a new story.

Building a reading den is a great way to bond and be a (secretly) cool parent

At least until they reach the dreaded teenage years, most kids love nothing more than when their grown-ups are playful and spend time with them. Building a book nook together or climbing inside one as a family is almost guaranteed to end up in giggles and a good time for all, creating your very own family story that you'll all remember long after the event.

A dedicated reading space makes it easy to fall under the spell of books

Distractions abound in all walks of life and if we want our children to pick up a book and be transported by the words and pictures on their pages we need to make it easy for this to happen. This means making books enticing and accessible. If the space is somehow "secret", cosy and secluded, and clearly defined as a special place, it becomes so much easier to leave noisier distractions (whether that's an older sibling or a screen) behind.

Most kids love nothing more than when their grown-ups are playful and spend time with them

Having a book den shows my kids how much I value reading and books

Although at times it feels like kids always ignore what their parents want them to do, I've seen my kids quietly pick up on my values in all sorts of ways, from politics to religion via my taste in weird flavoured crisps. I know that by showing them I think reading is a great way to spend our time, I'm sending out secret messages about what matters. It may not always work, but it's definitely more successful than never showing what matters to you.

 

How?

Like any architects or engineers, book den builders need supplies

(1) Things to define your book space, (2) materials to make it comfortable, (3) light to read by and (4) (don't forget!) book storage are key factors. We like to use blankets, saris (because they are large, lightweight and let light through), butterfly clips or washing-line pegs, cushions, headlamps or fairy lights, and a small suitcase or simply a cardboard box full of books.

Look around your house and outdoor space and see what you can re-purpose

Could a cupboard become a story den? What about a wide window sill? (Empty) paddling pools, dog beds, a shed or even just the space under a child's bed can all be transformed with the help of rugs or pillows. Your den doesn’t have to be elaborate: a corner or a landing can be converted into an encouragement to stop and linger over a book - a chair, a beanbag and a perhaps a stack of books you've wrapped up in recycled wrapping paper to create a sense of occasion. Or it could just be a shelf of books, comics or magazines with some pillows nearby to flop down on.

Think: secret and snug

A little bit of mystery and/or concealment adds a dash of wonder. Could your reading den be hidden or in an area normally "off-limits"? Do you need a secret password to enter it? Comfort encourages lingering; indeed, a very popular reading spot in our house is simply a nest made out of duvets on the sofa.

Think: high up or pop-up

Anything raised up (in a tree? on top of bunk beds?) invites adventure. Can you see the possibilities with a table pushed into a corner of a room or a stack of mattresses piled on top of each other? And don't forget, reading dens needn't be up forever; some of our most successful pop-up book-themed cubbyholes have consisted simply of a set of chairs with a sheet thrown over them for a couple of hours before tea-time. Knowing it's a space only available for a limited amount of time can make it even more special, tempting and surprising.

Could a cupboard become a story den? What about a wide window sill?

Books are the beating heart of any reading den

It looks great, you've had fun building it, but now for the life blood of your reading corner: books. Why not stock it with borrowees from your local library? Or take the kids to charity bookshops after school and let them choose whatever they want? Maybe arrange a book swap with friends? Dig out old favourites from your own childhood? Or perhaps even create a treasure hunt that leads to the den and a chest full of the best of treasure: doorways into wide open worlds full of possibilities, disguised as books.

Zoe Toft

Zoe has so far spent 10 years building book dens with her own two children. It's hard to know who has more fun: her or the kids. She writes regularly about the enjoyment books bring into her family at Playing by the Book and volunteers with the reading for pleasure charity, The Federation of Children's Book Groups, which is currently celebrating National Non-Fiction November.

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