Monday, October 12, 2009

Thou Shalt Read

Yes, I have now made it a commandment.

I must credit the idea for this post to my dear friend who is a self-named "lit nut," mama, and a member of the blogosphere herself. Her children are very young but I asked her what she thinks parents would really like to read here on the blog. She mentioned the importance of children seeing their parents read. I have mentioned in my literary tips how important modeled behavior is when it comes to reading and, as my friend put it, "readers raise readers." If you are not a reader yourself, don't despair. I'm not saying everyone needs to be making their way through Chaucer and Milton every afternoon, what I'm saying is that reading should be a REAL part of every household.

For me, it was my dad. My dad loves to read. Since I can remember he has read about a book a week. Every night before he goes to sleep he picks up the novel he is working his way through and cracks the pages. I saw this growing up. I remember going on family trips and looking at my dad sprawled out in the sun or even just a chair in a hotel room, reading. I remember him on the plane reading, at an outdoor restaurant reading, on a boat, yes, reading. It's no surprise, then, that loving and looking up to my father as I did, I wanted to read, too. As I grew older and had books of my own I began to join his bedtime reading ritual. We read aloud (The Boxcar Children, The Lord of the Rings) but as the years passed we just started reading together. In bed, side by side, he with his novel and me with mine.

More than our reading time, though, I cherished our discussions. Dad loved to talk about books. It didn't matter that we were reading middle-grade books, he wanted to discuss them all. He listened to my impressions of the characters, my expectations for the plot and, inevitably, my thoughts on the ending. These books may as well have been Crime and Punishment, that's how in-depth we talked about them, theme and all. I felt listened to, important and most of all like I had something to say. I felt smart.

I can't stress how important this is for children, how what we do and what we value is more often than not what they will eventually put their attention to. Read. Let your kids see you. Talk about these books. Listen to them. Show them that there is a reason they do what they do in school, because reading matters and real, live adults, adults they respect and love, do it too.

We often think that we have to read to children for them to get the benefits of literacy. What many adults don't know is that simply reading yourself could ignite a true, lasting love of reading in the children that surround you.

Today my dad and I still talk about books. We pass them through the mail and through our (far too infrequent) visits. I always know when he calls me and he wants to talk about a book. His voice is strong and his tone is a little rushed. He'll spill his side and then he'll pause, take a deep breathe and say, "but what I really want to know is, what did you think?" And I smile, and tell him.


  1. Great post. I always saw my Dad reading as I was going to bed, and my Mom played the piano at night. The two combined really fostered my love for reading and listening to classical music.

    I think my Dad's regular trips to the library with me and my sisters really fostered a love for reading, too. Of course, he always checked out his own books, so I knew reading wasn't just for us kids.