Fudge. Charlotte. Ramona. Matilda. BFG. The Great Brain.
If you don’t know who these characters are, I have nothing but sorrow for you. If you couldn’t read them yourself–or didn’t want to–I hope you had someone in your life willing to sit down with you and read them out loud. Once I read survey results stating that children did better in school when read to by a parent (which seems obvious) but a shocking number didn’t read to their kids daily, or even weekly.
That breaks my heart. I’m trying to think of a day in Maggie or Moira’s life where they haven’t heard at least two books before lunch. Moira’s still more interested in eating the books, but she’s game to look at the bright photographs and big block words of the board books. Even when she was a newborn, I read to Maggie. I used to read her Shell Silverstein poems just to hear the sound of my own voice cutting through the addled fog of those early days. With each reading of “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout,” I pulled myself further out of the terrible new parent hole of fear and insecurity and worry that we weren’t bonding like I thought we would; at least, if I was reading to her, I was doing something right.
Our old hometown in Hawaii had half-days for school on Wednesday. That was the worst day to go to the library because so many parents used the facility as a free babysitter/dumping ground for their elementary/middle school aged kids. One day I forgot and brought Maggie anyway. The kids’ section was crawling with kids, but one little girl caught my eye. She was about seven, wearing glasses and twirling her hair thoughtfully. In her lap was a copy of Charlotte’s Web–and didn’t have much left to read. I knew what was coming and waited. Sure enough, she finished shortly before we checked out. The tears welled, huge and swimmy behind her glasses, and when she sought out her older sister at the big kids’ table she couldn’t explain why she was crying.
Looking back, I wish I had gone up to her and told her I understood that Charlotte had broken her heart. It just seemed like too private a moment to interrupt.
Maggie and I read our first chapter book together a few months back: Winnie the Pooh. She still talks about hunting for woozles. Since then we’ve read The Giraffe, The Pelly, and Me, started George’s Marvelous Medicine, and we’re going through our second round of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Every toy giraffe is a window cleaner; every mention of a bean is followed with a shout of “Bunce, Boggis, and BEEEEEEAN!” It amazes me that she’s only barely three and sits still for such long readings of dense text with minimal pictures, and her hunger for more, more, more books fills me with such indescribable joy. It’s so thrilling, anticipating all those words and worlds that are waiting for us to share together. I think Maggie will enjoy Peter’s aggravation as he deals with his irritating little brother Fudge (conversely, I hope Moira gets more out of rambunctious Ramona and frosty Beezus than I, the uptight elder child, was able to glean) and be pleasantly intrigued by the dimensions of the pit in James’s peach. And yes, even those difficult moments found in a friendly literate spider’s web or at the other end of the bridge to Terabithia–those are important too.
Reading was the core of my childhood, and I love being their guide. I can’t wait to see where books take them.