A friend linked a wonderful essay by author Kate DiCamillo on Facebook recently, about the benefits of reading aloud together.
The author spoke of her mom reading to her as a child, which is the most common read aloud set up, I guess, and she shared how much of an impact it made on her to see her mom laugh until she cried, while reading the Beverly Cleary classic, Ribsy.
(We love us some Beverly Cleary in this house. Er, apartment.)
Shared reactions are definitely a point in favor of reading aloud. It’s not uncommon for me to laugh uproariously–my kids have seen that plenty–but I will tell you that I think it’s been more meaningful that they’ve seen me simply cry when moved, because of something we’re reading.
I don’t really read out loud to them enough. I never have. (I even wrote a blog post years ago describing what it’s like to try and read out loud with kids all over you, and how much of a failure I was at it, compared to some saintly homeschooling moms.)
But it is always rewarding, when I do.
And I’m reminded again and again that there is always time, or there should be, for something like reading out loud. (And your kids aren’t too old, no matter what you think or they tell you. I’ll bet you a dollar that even if they roll their eyes, they’ll sit and listen when you start.)
We read The Hobbit as my marriage of twenty plus years was winding down and I was summoning the strength to leave.
We’re reading Watership Down, now, in the evenings before exhaustion from single Momming knocks me out for the night.
You just have to make time. Even if it’s five or ten minutes.
My kids gain benefits from it, yes. They hear words read correctly (as long as I know how to pronounce them), they ingest great writing (or just fun writing, as in the case of the Junie B. Jonesbooks we all loved when they were little), and it’s time when they’re doing something other than looking at a screen.
And they’ve seen me get choked up. Over something other than our electric bill, or the fact that someone didn’t fully shut the freezer door.
The two constants that get me verklempt, as those of us who grew up watching a certain time period of Saturday Night Live would call it, are seasonal reads; Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
It’s helpful to have ways to illustrate to your kids that you actually are a human being, and this is how I’ve done it; by getting emotional over children’s books.
Both of these are also great examples of how books can teach lessons, another important aspect of reading aloud.
Squanto gets kidnapped, is forced to live with Europeans for much of his adult life, and comes back home to find that not only is his entire village dead, but Europeans are now living there. He just can’t get away from them. But he acts as an interpreter, helps negotiate peace, and also shows them how to grow food.
Thanksgiving, politically, is a touchy subject, I know. And Squanto is also not a perfect example of selflessness–there are accounts that his role as one of the only go-betweens went to his head, and he actually starting fleecing some of his fellow Native Americans who needed him to interpret.
But he suffered. And yet he made a decision to help the Europeans who came trouncing into his world, anyway, and he definitely had a role in the fact that there was a long period of peaceful co-existence between them and the inhabitants of what they called a “New World”.
Thanksgiving is a time to be humble and reflective. There will be times in your life when you’ll be the encroacher, barreling into someone else’s world insensitively, stepping on lives and taking things that aren’t yours. Hopefully there will also be times when you’ll be in a position to be helpful, even if those who need your help don’t fully deserve it. But you’ll do it, anyway. Out of compassion.
Christmas is also a time to ponder deep things, but a hilarious kids’ book is a good way to do it without beating everyone over the head.
Just be warned; you might, like me, get overcome with the message woven into the story of the wild, unkempt Herdmans. It’s the real spirit behind the baby whose birth some have chosen to celebrate during that season.
The tale of a tiny being undertaking a long journey and a gargantuan task is great fuel for reinforcing big decisions of your own. The Hobbit also has the unique honor of housing one of my very favorite words; “staggerment”. (I’m not sure if J.R.R. Tolkien made that word up or not, but it is nestled in my heart forever.)
And this second reading of Watership Down with my younger batch of kids is making me think either more deeply than it did the first time…or the manic demands of motherhood have made me forget how deep it was.
It made me blink when I got to the part where Hazel tells the Owsla members who have come after them to go…or be killed.
Yes, I’ve read it before, but I’ve slept since then–it was like seeing it for the first time, and I had a moment where I thought, “Wow…really? Is that necessary?” It caused us to get into an impromptu discussion about good leadership, and making hard decisions, and our simple time sitting on the floor and reading became a teaching moment. (I also have to admit that life in our new seriously reduced circumstances has me sympathizing deeply with a pack of rabbits dodging peril at every turn. Sort of how I feel like we’re living a financial version of this family of ducks’ trip across the freeway.)
Books matter. Teaching your child to read is important, getting them in the habit of reading is important, but giving them a love for story, for information, and for the written/spoken word is something that will yield a multitude of benefits, I believe.
And if you don’t have kids, read out loud to someone who wouldn’t otherwise read a book. Your significant other, your grandma, your dog. (Yes, it can be good for both you and him/her.) Or if you’re the person who would like to be read to, get an audio book. You could get a historical biography and learn something useful, or you could just get ahold of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please.
But reading out loud to your kids is a good thing.
Don’t feel bad if you’re not doing a lot of it, just…try.