Reading Is Fun(damental)
March 1 was the kickoff of the annual Read Across America celebration, which falls on the birthday of the inimitable Dr. Seuss and highlights the importance of developing a love of reading at an early age. But what many don’t realize is that this day marks the beginning of a full year filled with events and promotions around reading to—and with—children. The National Education Association provides educators with materials (check out their new online Seuss store) and provides the means for anyone to organize a Read Across America event.
Marking Time Through Books
When I was a little girl I adored going to bookstores with my mom. When the Danbury Fair Mall opened up not far from our home, I would beg her to take me to the mall—and while I liked shopping for clothes as much as the next girl, I was really on a quest to browse the bookstore shelves. There were two bookstores there then, and I would split my time evenly between them. Even though I imagine they carried essentially the same stock, the books were organized and presented differently, and each one provided an opportunity to unearth a new gem. In one I sat cross-legged on the floor, cozy in the corner where the stockroom abutted the young adult section, feeling protected in my own little literary world. Then I would hightail it to the other store, always more bustling, where I paged through magazines in hopes of convincing my mother to buy me a few new titles.
I recall being giddy when I graduated from Beverly Cleary books to Judy Blume, and again when I discovered, in sixth grade, classic authors Jack London, Charles Dickens, and Henry James.
At every point in my life my situation and character could be revealed through both the music in my stereo (or, these days, on my iPad) and through the books on my shelves. My discovery of Virginia Woolf came like a flaming revelation as I devoured Mrs. Dalloway in one overnight sitting during college. And my unexpected foray into the world of Nora Roberts coincided with my pregnancy, when I could only stomach happy endings and predictable prose (needless to say, I had to take a hiatus from fellow Brooklynite—and Pulitzer-prize winner—Jhumpa Lahiri, whose well-worn books were all-consuming to me right before then).
Reading Is Fun(damental)
I love reading books aloud to my son. I have a feeling one way I will mark time in his childhood is through my memories of what we were reading at any given time.
My sister-in-law tells the story of waiting on line at midnight to get her seemingly too-young-for-Harry-Potter child the latest installment in the J.K. Rowling series—and they both recall specific moments not only from that night, but from within the pages of the books as they deciphered the words together. I hope that both my son and I will have many such reading-related memories to share in years to come.
Since my toddler is not quite at a stage to learn to read on his own yet, we focus on reading a lot, and reading what makes us laugh and feel. There are the inevitable books that tug at our heartstrings (for me, Meet Me at the Moon by Gianna Marino qualifies). Others, though, are just plain fun to read. Anything by Dr. Seuss tops that list. Just try saying these words and not smiling:
And you don’t have to stop.
You can think about SCHLOPP.
Schlopp. Schlopp. Beautiful schlopp.
With a cherry on top.
(from Oh, the Thinks You Can Think)
Please, sir. I don’t
Like this trick, sir.
My tongue isn’t
Quick or slick, sir.
I get all those
Ticks and clocks, sir,
Mixed up with the
Chicks and tocks, sir.
(from Fox in Socks)
Books, of course, are made fun to read by more than wordplay. They can amuse us with their potty humor, with allusions to pop culture that only the parents will get but that children seem to enjoy just the same, with rhymes, and with plain silliness. And, while I hate to say it, there are plenty of kid lit offerings that just don’t make the grade. So I was thrilled when a book published by the American Library Association came across my desk: Silly Books to Read Aloud by Rob Reid. The subtitle: Books that will have adults and kids laughing together.
Indeed, all 176 pages are jam-packed with recommendations for fun books to read aloud—organized by age/reading level and with helpful notes about each. Quite a few of the books my son and I return to again and again are on the list. And while many of our favorites did not get in, I am excited to start sampling the ones we haven’t yet read. I regard the book like a menu: Depending upon our mood, we may sample one or two today, one or two tomorrow, and please our literary palate in a different manner with each sitting.
Reading Together Throughout Childhood
“There is a general misconception that when children have learned to read, adults should stop reading to them,” writes Reid in the book’s introduction. On the contrary, there is ample evidence indicating that reading to children of all ages helps them achieve success in the long run. And why stop now that they’ve reached a point where they may even share your sense of humor?!
In another of the 92Y talks (read about the other speakers in my previous posts), Dr. Lydia Soifer, an NYC-based language specialist and educational consultant with more than thirty-five years experience in clinical practice, spoke at length about the importance of reading to our kids. “Words influence cognition from the very first months of life,” she said. In fact, “Language is the thread in the patchwork quilt of child development.”
Did you know that at 2 to 3 years old a youngster is usually able to listen to a story for 10-20 minutes? By age 4 or 5, according to Soifer, “they can use language to imagine.” And by the time he’s 10 he’s got a vocabulary of tens of thousands of words! Talk and talk and talk with your children. In so doing, we are helping them crack the language code. And then? Soifer exudes, “Once they learn to read, there’s no stopping them!”
The Changing Face of the Modern Library
Libraries are no longer all about books. As a recent article in The New Republic about libraries becoming new media centers states, “a digital copy of the Library of Congress’s entire book collection could fit in a single shoebox.” The New York Public Library headquarters has proposed a massive reconfiguration, pages are being replaced by digital screens for many, and kids don’t seem to have a problem reading entire titles on their smart phones. And yet, libraries will never not be about books in some capacity (thank goodness).
“The library is one of the greatest inventions in the world (up there with the car and the iPod and the snowblower…),” writes Reid. My son and I have been taking weekly walks to the Park Slope branch on Fifth Ave. The DVDs are admittedly scratched at times, but the books are what we really go for anyway. A remnant of our constant pretend-pirate play, my son whispers dramatically to me that “we’ve found treasure” as we carry our finds to the check-out area.
I’ll be thrilled if he is able to carry that sense of wonder about books throughout his life. My mother passed on to me a great heritage of reading for the love of it—for knowledge, for emotional purging, for gaining understanding, for everything—and seeing that love affair blossom in my son is simply wonderful.