When I was a teacher, I was perplexed when a student refused to check out books on our weekly trips to the library—until I learned that the books went home and were never read. I told her I would be glad to read them to her, but she refused. She had already learned that non-technological pursuits had less value than flashy apps. And even though some of these apps were “educational,” they couldn’t make up for the parent-child interaction that comes with reading together. This is a battle all parents of the twenty-first century are fighting. Or, rather, it’s a battle I wish we would all fight. Too many of us have already waved the white flag, assigning reading the status of optional.
This is something that’s hard to wrap my mind around, considering that reading is like breathing to me. I went through a short period during which I didn’t want to read on my own—and I’m sure it was due to learning to read and spending my energies on deciphering the language rather than taking in the story—but I got over that pretty quickly. When I started reading novels, I soon had no more books to read at home and then discovered the wonders of my elementary school’s library. I plowed through Beverly Cleary and Little Women and every book of mythology I could get my hands on. In middle school, my dad introduced me to Michael Crichton, and then I discovered the vast catalog of Agatha Christie titles. When I met my husband, I was on a Stephen King kick, and he soon started reading my books when I finished them. Over the years this evolved to Harry Potter and many others. Other couples may hire a babysitter and go on dates. We sit around and read and then bug each other to read the books we’ve just finished so we can talk about them.
Naturally, this has extended to our children. When our elder son was little, we read Go, Dog. Go! to him so much that he had the book completely memorized and would act out the scenes. There have been some nights recently when our activities have necessitated getting the kids to bed way past their usual bedtimes, and for the sake of sleep, we have foregone our usual reading-together-before-bed ritual. And let me tell you: the kids don’t like it. “Can we read [book of the moment]?” Peter will ask. And I’ll feel horrible for having to turn him down.
I was recently reading on a Friday night, and with absolutely no reason to get up early the next day, I kept going until past midnight, finishing the last 90 pages of the book. (For someone who gets up at 4:40 every weekday, that’s quite a feat!) Devouring a book because it’s too good to put down is an amazing feeling. Ordering the sequel on Amazon is a close second.
Unfortunately, many people labor under the mistaken belief that novels are only for “escape” or “fluff.” On the contrary: I’ve learned all kinds of things from my sojourns in fiction, from new vocabulary to customs unlike my own to truths I may not have pondered had they not been presented to me in a unique, fictional light. Not to mention that all writers should read simply for the exposure to another writer’s perspective. For every age, not just children, books provide an excellent avenue for learning and growth, and a great example for children is to see people to whom they look up reading.
When I learned my elder son was dyslexic, I was distressed, worrying that the child who loved to be read to would hate books once he had to read them on his own. And although he still struggles, he loves books—and there are wonderful apps out there to make books accessible to those who do have reading problems. There is absolutely no reason why everyone should not be able to enjoy books in some form or fashion. (Books aren’t available to everyone, you may argue. Click here to read a blog that addresses this very issue.)
I’m not saying that other activities are without merit. I’m also a baseball/musical theatre/piano/visual arts/LEGO/Marvel Universe mom. I pride myself on offering my kids multiple outlets for their talents and interests, but I believe I would be robbing them of a great opportunity if I didn’t share my love of books with them. I shouldn’t have to make this argument at all, yet so many people harbor the notion that reading is only for people with oodles of spare time or who have a nerdish personality. For example, if you saw a muscular dude reading a book in the park instead of engaging in some form of physical activity, would you be surprised? If yes, it’s because popular culture has created a stereotype for the typical “reader.” But it shouldn’t be that way. Books are for everyone.
Maybe it’s corny, but I think the Reading Rainbow theme song states it pretty well:
Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high.
Take a look, it’s in a book, a Reading Rainbow!
I can go anywhere.
Friends to know,
and ways to grow.
A Reading Rainbow!
I can be anything.
Take a look,
it’s in a book.
A Reading Rainbow.