I have spent the lion’s share of my life with my nose in a book. I was the kid who never went anywhere without a book and I’m still the same. I never set out anywhere without some reading material and use commuting time and down time as an opportunity to immerse myself in another world; fiction, nonfiction, news, fantasy – it all serves as grist for the mill and informs me as a writer.
When my daughter was born I couldn’t wait to start reading to her. I figured that she’s already been reading along with me while I was pregnant so there was really no gap. I gleefully pulled out my childhood favorites and it’s been heavenly to get to read all of those stories again. When I think about it I think the fact that I love these stories so much is a big part of the experience for her.
For me a story always goes deeper than the physical act of reading. The stories we read are attached to certain times in our lives and rereading them means a trip back in time and more ways than one. This past year my daughter and I read the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. These were the defining stories of my childhood in many ways and there are reasons that they are timeless. As a child it was so important to have heroes that were other children and the Pevencies, with all of their faults and quarrels, were just like us and showed us that we could and should dream of accomplishing the impossible as children. They taught us about bravery, loyalty, betrayal and cowardice. About paying for your mistakes and most of all about forgiveness.
Reading for our family when I was a child was about adventure and mystery. It was never something we HAD to do, it wasn’t homework, it was a gift and something we were always encouraged to do. The fact that my mother was a prolific reader had much to do with my love to reading, she made it exciting, intimate and engaging. She also made it interactive. We always read aloud – on holidays we would choose a book, usually an epic like Lorna Doone or Treasure Island and every day the entire family would gather and my mother would read a few chapters. We all looked forward to it and it made rainy days on holiday a highlight because we got to read longer. She was an animated reader and hearing stories aloud transforms them, especially for children who are so visually driven – great books can transport you to an island filled with pirates instantly and I would be surprised when I looked out a window that the landscape didn’t match what I had been hearing.
I also knew that she needed time to read for herself and could hardly wait until I could read the beautiful volumes that lined the walls of our living room. Now I know that not everyone is a reader and time is a problem for many people but children learn by example and it doesn’t matter what you read, you just need to do it with them. Showing your children that you value reading is the single best way to ignite that thirst for reading in them. Maybe I’m old fashioned but I’ll take a book over a film any day and the act of engaging with a story over and over again as you pick up where you left off is important.
Reading with children should be a ritual and we set aside specific times in the day when we do so. For my daughter and me it’s breakfast, we read almost every day while she has her breakfast before going to school. Yes, it means I have to get up a little earlier and get myself ready and all of my morning tasks done but it’s worth it. It starts the day on a high note – we travel to distant countries, fly with fairies and laugh at the antics of Captain Underpants.
When the time came for my daughter to start reading on her own she was very resistant. I knew she could already read, I had caught her by reading things wrong on purpose and getting her to correct me. I finally asked her one day if she didn’t just want to read the book on her own.
“NO!” was her emphatic answer.
When I asked her why she wouldn’t answer and then it hit me.
“Are you worried that if I know you can read that I won’t read to you any more?’ I asked her.
Her downcast eyes said it all.
“Sweetheart, I’ll read to you for the rest of your life, don’t worry. Even if you are reading on your own we’ll always read together.”
And that seemed to have done the trick. She is now the girl with her nose in a book at all times and we can’t go anywhere in the car or subway without a few books and a notepad and pencils. And yes, we still read together every morning at breakfast and I hope we will continue to do so for many, many years.
Jocelyn Lucas Rosenberg is a writer, strategist and cook currently working on her first novel. She lives in Brooklyn NY in a 105 year-old Victorian house with her daughter, her husband, over a 1000 books and more cats than she cares to count.