My first motivation to read came from my parents. When I was only two years old, they began a ritual of reading to me at bedtime, taking turns each night. This habit made bedtime a pleasure for me and then for my younger brother and sister. Bedtime stories read aloud became things we looked forward to and provided a peaceful bond between us and our parents. After I reached the age of two, Mom and Dad took us to the public library, where we were able to choose books in the children’s section. At that early age, I began by picking books for the pictures and then for the stories. Next my parents would ask us to tell the stories based upon what we remembered of the books, often using illustrations as guides. Then came the words we began to recognize and repeat.
Dad said that if we liked books, we need never be bored or feel lonely. That wisdom was proven true over and over again as I was growing up and is still as accurate as it ever was when I was a child. On every summer trip we took with us in our station wagon a selection of books to read en route. I will always be grateful to my parents for hooking me and my siblings on reading. A new book to read was the one thing we were never denied as kids. There might not always have been money for new bikes, but there was always money for new things to read. My brother David, my sister Connie Lynn, and I could often be found curled up in a cozy corner with books we loved. Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, Charlotte’s Web, Dr. Seuss, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Aesop’s Fables were among these.
My grandparents bought us the Young Folks Shelf of Books, a set of ten volumes published in the 1940’s by Collier. There were earlier and later editions of these books, but I still have the ones given to us when I was still in diapers.
When I taught high school, I tried hard to find books that interested each kid, even though we also had a roster of books in the required reading curriculum. I knew that once a kid found a book he or she loved, a life could be changed forever.
It saddens me at times to see kids constantly using their thumbs to text mind-numbing and uncreative messages instead of challenging themselves with good books. I was delighted by the Harry Potter revolution. I still love seeing teenagers and younger kids carrying books that are their own choices, books that enrich as well as entertain. We can all be sensitized and made better by reading. It’s a private joy but also one that can be shared in our discussions of why we liked what we have read as we pass on books to friends and relatives. It doesn’t matter if the book is old with yellow pages that smell of the distant past or electronic Kindle Readers. Reading is a window to enhance our curiosity and sense of wonder about everything around us. I urge all the parents out there to make reading a pleasure you share with your kids. They will be forever enriched by it and grateful for your loving efforts. JB