Friday, October 23, 2009

Reading to Felix

The following post is courtesy of my very good friend Brian. Brian is a fellow writer and stay at home dad to his five month old son, Felix. I know that Brian and Felix already have some reading rituals together so I asked him to do a post on early (early!) literacy. Below are his thoughts on books and his baby boy. Thank you, Brian! 

About a week after my son Felix was born, we started reading The Iliad together. 


Ok, so I did the reading while he lay in my lap looking cute, staring at the ceiling, or, more often than not, sleeping.  I had no pretensions that he was paying attention or getting anything from the work itself.  Though if he was, the themes of the epic—mortality, morality, free will versus fate—seemed an appropriate introduction to the human experience.  Really, my hope was that the intonation and cadence of my voice giving breath to the musical rhythm of Homer’s verse (in the vibrant translation of Stanley Lombardo) would make some deep, lasting impression on his consciousness, planting the seeds of language right from the start.  Some pregnancy books actually recommend reading to the fetus in-utero for a similar reason, but I felt ridiculous addressing my wife’s ripe belly.


We made our way through the first few books of The Iliad before Felix out grew it at a month old.  Sitting still for long periods of time was something newborns do—big babies want to move and explore the world around them!  So my wife and I introduced block books.


Again, we didn’t care about the actual content so much as his experience with the book as an object.  Not surprisingly, pictures excited him right from the get go.  Warm colored objects in particular drew his gaze.  His favorite was a Baby Einstein book called Mirror Me!  The bold, blocky faces made him coo and hoot, and he flashed some of his first smiles to himself in the mirror.  Another favorite was the Usborne Touchy Feely That’s Not My Bear.  The repetition of the words “that’s not my bear” inspired me to sing rather than read it to him—again drawing attention to the rhythm and musicality of language, and inspiring giggles at daddy’s off-key crooning.


Soon Felix was sitting for longer periods and had developed better eyesight.  One afternoon, I propped him up against the pillows and read him Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.  He loved the orange, flame shaped little Lorax, and began ooh, ooh, oohing whenever he saw him.  I could see his eyes scanning the page every time I turned, trying to locate the fuzzy little character.  This was the first time I witnessed him being engaged by a character on the page, and it was thrilling.  Felix was creating his own story, or game if you like, of find the Lorax.  In later readings, as Felix became more adept with his hands, he reached out, trying to grab him.  This book remains one of his favorite reads.


Improved hand eye coordination has allowed Felix to get involved with reading by turning pages.  The thin paper of picture books is more challenging, but block and fuzzy books he flips through with ease.  Sometimes, he turns them so fast I don’t have the opportunity to read him the words. 


This isn’t to imply that words themselves don’t fascinate him, because they do.  Black type on white pages, whether in the form of language or the notes of the sheet music propped up on our piano, intrigue him.  The pages he responds to the most in Peggy Rathman’s Goodnight Gorilla aren’t the ones with pictures, but the ones when the lights go out and the character’s word bubbles hover on a black field.  He reaches for the letters, as if he could grab them from the page.  He does the same thing when sitting in my lap while I read The New Yorker.  I like to think that he knows these markings are special.



Felix turns five months next week, and already he displays an excitement and warmth towards books.  He’s building a positive relationship with them, which my wife and I hope will stay with him his whole life.  The most basic pleasure he experiences with books as physical objects is similar to that some bibliophiles feel when they smell and feel an especially lovely old tome.  It’s the very beginnings of a love we’ll nurture and feed in the months and years to come.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post. I have a two-year-old, and I remember going through all these phases with her. Now with her little brother (who seems to be exactly the same age as Felix), I am realizing that I haven't spent as much time introducing him to books. He hears me read to his sister while he has "tummy time", so he's being exposed to language, but he's so squirmy that rarely do I keep him on my lap while I'm reading Sophia a story--or reading to myself. This is something I will have to rememdy! Thank you for the reminder, Brian--and Becca!