Thursday, October 21, 2010

why we read to our kids

One thing my mom did right, was that she read to me. A lot. And whereas my dad would not only tend to skip pages but also kept his voice dead flat when he on occasion read for me at night, my mom seemed to take tremendous delight herself in the activity, reading with great impersonation.

It's one of my fondest memory, sitting on her lap in a big cozy armchair in the living room for quiet time and she'd read to me. Big beautiful leather bound books with classic tales, colorfully illustrated and with beautiful letters. Series of books she ordered through a children's book club, stacking the bookshelves in my bedroom. Text heavy books, or animated books. Bags of books from the library. Some that were challenging, others a breezy read, and some that were right in between.

My mom always had a stack of books on her night table as well, and when the kids were older and she'd get some to herself after dinner and cleaning up, she'd sit in her armchair and read. (I understand now why she to the question "what do you want for Christmas or for your birthday" would always respond: peace and quiet and good children (fred og ro og snille barn).

According to What to Read When: The Books and Stories to read with Your Child -- and All the Best Times to Read Them by Pam Allyn, founder and director of LitLife, an organization that trains K-12 teachers in literacy education, my mom did everything right. She shared her love for books with me. Not just the stories and illustrations, but the way the books were bound, the fonts that were used, the layers of meaning. She introduced me to a range of genres and I would take it all in, devouring books at night myself as my reading skills improved. And she kept reading to me, even when I was fine on my own. I grew heavy on her lap, but she held on to this ritual too.

Even with my mom's role modeling, my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, and years of experience teaching literature to college students, I found Allyn's book a compelling read. It is organized into three sections. In the first, she describes ways of engaging children in reading and interpretation, how to encourage their love of each letter and page, the power of a good story. She concludes this introductory section with a children's literature canon. In the second, she discusses what kinds of books to read at children's various ages, from birth till ten, providing numerous title suggestions. Finally, in the third, she recommends books that relate to various themes, from "adoption" to "your body" ("complexity of sharing" and "falling asleep" are included among the fifty she presents).

I recommend Allyn's book. Even if you too had someone who's passed on your love for books that you in turn can pass on to your and others' children. It's a reminder of how magical the entrance into the realm of literature can be for children and it's a great annotated catalog of book recommendations for different staged and occasions.

I was reminded of the importance of books that address challenging situations when I came across Anna Brushes Her Teeth at the library. No matter how fun we tried to make the tooth brushing for her with songs (e.g. puss puss så får du et kyss) and rituals, it was just a dreaded time of the day. After reading that book ONCE, it became a blast. Now it's her papa or I saying, "time to brush teeth," and she goes, "just like Anna!"

Currently I'm looking for books dealing with departure time (as in for when we're leaving the play ground, the library, stores, parks, or wherever she does not want to leave). Any recommendations? A book on the challenges of waiting (as in building patience) would also be great.


  1. Trying to think of some good books about waiting or leaving, but am drawing a blank at the moment. But I do have one tip for times when she has to wait patiently. I have a special "waiting toy" in my purse that C only gets to play with when we have to sit still and wait somewhere (like a restaurant or doctor's office or bus stop or wherever). Our current Waiting Toy is

    He is so excited to have to wait somewhere because he gets to use it only then. And the toy allows for lots of imaginative make-believe play (because we have a dog and C loves dogs and taking care of them, etc.)

    My mom always had waiting toys in her purse (I remember the ones from when I was older--peg games and paper and pens for drawing with, etc.)

    If I think of any good waiting/leaving books, I'll let you know!


  2. What a great idea, thanks, Tara! This looks like a great toy. I bet Lilly would love it too. She loves dogs and my friend that watches her on Friday just got a puppy and now Lilly wants a dog too! I love how it encourages imaginative play. Lilly's very much into her doll house, which she's made the home for all her dinosaurs and jungle animals. Thanks!


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