Mom reading to me, Joe, and Andrew, 1951; Dad reading to Anne, 1974
My parents read to us every single night. They tended to pick books of interest to the older children, so the younger ones were exposed to Winnie the Pooh, The Jungle Books, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, etc. at an early age. On their first visit to Anne in the hospital the day she was born, my mom and dad bought three picture books.
My mom and dad were consummate book worms. Our local library was a tiny volunteer operation in an old church. They took us to the Hempstead Library, three miles away. We were each allowed to take out as many books as we could carry; once I managed 20. As a librarian, I am upset by parents who restrict their kids to two or three books, especially when they ask me to back them up. My first library card seemed magical. I vividly remember my awe when I realized that card was a passport to the whole world. Wherever I have been in the world, libraries are home. Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
I have always been grateful that we did not have a television set until I was 14. John and I experimented with throwing out our television and maintained our resolve for for five years. Rose, who never watched TV until she was 5, is the most voracious reader.
My sister-in-law once paid me the supreme compliment: “Your idea of domesticity is putting your books in alphabetical order.” Reading always took precedence over housework in my family. I have always found time to read at least 4 or 5 books a week. Admittedly my speed is much better than my retention. I can enjoy the same mysteries twice.
Preschoolers can enjoy chapter books. Michelle insisted on our reading The Wind in the Willows to her three separate times when she was 4. Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books are perfect for 4’s and 5’s. Carolyn did regard Ramona as her ego ideal. Don’t stop reading to your children when they learn to read. Continue to read chapter books, books beyond their ability to read themselves. We never lose our love for being read to. Check out the thousands of books on tape and CD at your local library. If your library doesn’t have the title you want, they can usually get it from another library.
I babysat for the same family from age 11 to 18; the kids were 2 and 6 when I started. By the time I graduated from college, Marion, the oldest, could babysit her brother by herself. I always read to them. About 10 years ago, I discovered a novel written by Marion. I was thrilled, look her up, and we write to each other sporadically. I loved to imagine that all those hundreds of books I had read to Marion and her brother helped influence her to become a writer.
When Anne was a teenager, we often seemed to communicate best by leaving books for each other on the radiator next to the toilet. No matter how conflicted our relationship could become, we both enjoyed the same books.
Do you ever go back and read your favorite children’s books? At any age, it illuminating to try to find out what books you wanted read to you again and again. I remember Anne’s calling me from college, thrilled that she had made a new friend who loved the same children’s books. After my dad died, I loved to read again the books he read to me and my five brothers; the books and the memories seemed to bring him back. Pictures of parents reading to children are among my favorites.
I want a software program that enables you to feed in all your children’s favorite books and then spits out an analysis of their character and advice on what battles are worth fighting. When asked to recommend books for children in the library, I usually talk to the kid for few minutes, figure out what daughter, brother, niece, nephew, cousins, friend she reminds me of, and recommend that child’s favorite book. This absolutely intuitive technique works well.
As a child I adored all the Oz books. I spent a great deal of time pretending I was Glinda the Good. I frequently wear a pin with red shoes, celebrating Dorothy’s magic red slippers. Nancy Drew, girl detective, was my other favorite. Veronica Mars reminds me of Nancy Drew.