by Dee Tadlock, Ph.D.
Developer, Read Right Methodology
October is the month of my mother’s birthday and, as the day approaches, I have been thinking about her a lot. She will be 101, and I have 70-plus years of remembrances of her. The memories of her reading to my older brother and me are among the most dominant.
The earliest experience I can recall is this: In the small room I shared with my brother, my mother sat on a straight-backed kitchen chair in the just-enough space between my brother’s twin bed and mine. Tucked in for the night, my older brother and I listened with rapt attention as my mother read at least one chapter every night from a book she’d chosen for us. (She frequently was cajoled into “just one more chapter, PLEASE!” because she enjoyed the experience as much as we did.)
What were these books that enthralled the three of us and left us begging for more? Children’s classics popular in the 1940s and 50s: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Black Beauty, The Littlest Colonel, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates; Mrs. Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch, Peter Pan, and many others.
I attempted to read these classics to my own children when they were the same age as my brother and me when my mother read them to us. But they weren’t interested. They soon left the couch. I tried another, same result; and another, same result. Finally, I acknowledged I wasn’t going to be able to recreate the experience for them.
Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. The classics seemed too advanced for them. The print was dense, and there were no pictures. Many of the sentences were long, and the language was complex. They were used to me reading to them from books with simpler text and pictures on every page—books I returned to for the nightly reading ritual once they’d voted against the classics with their feet (so to speak).
I phoned my brother to see if my memory was “off” and he confirmed that we were, indeed, only five and six when our mother had first read the classics to us. I had to ask myself: Why the generational difference?
THE VISUAL AGE
I can’t be sure why my children weren’t willing to listen to children’s classics, but I think it may have to do with the constant input of visual information available to children today vs. the 1940s and 50s. Television immediately comes to mind, but there are also video games and DVDs (most young children have a large “movie” library—sometimes bigger than their book libraries!)
Today, children’s books are wonderfully illustrated in vivid colors. There’s no need to build pictures in your mind based upon the story alone. Are there lessons in this? I’m not sure. Even younger than five and six, my children enjoyed the stories I made up as they snuggled into bed at night. There were no pictures. Their imaginations had to provide the illustrations. But, of course, the language was different—less formal and more conversational than language found in the children’s classics.
So, did my boys go through life without exposure to children’s classics? No! When they were older, they read some of them for themselves!
BUILD READING MEMORIES WITH YOUR CHILD
The major take-away I can offer from this “trip down memory lane” is that instilling a love of reading and a value for books and the written word can begin early in your child’s life. Whether that reading is of children’s classics, picture books, or comic books is irrelevant. Follow your children’s lead and read what they want to hear. But do read, and read often. Here are ideas:
–Establish reading rituals: before nap time, before bedtime, when your child isn’t feeling well, and when she’s hurt to help her feel better.
–Take a book along when you go to a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment with your child and read to them in the waiting room.
–When there are two adults in the car, read on long trips—or even short ones!
–If you can afford it, consider making a monthly ritual of buying a new book for your child’s own “library.” Say: “We’re going to the book store today to buy a new book for your library. You can pick whatever book you want.” Occasionally, choose books to read together.
–Give your child books as presents. This can continue as long as your child is living under your roof—and beyond. I still get books from my mother for Christmas and for my birthday, and they always evoke an authentic smile and warm memories of books my mother, brother, and I read together.
“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” Mark Twain