About: The Long Version

The Long Version:

(Go here for the short version.)

read

read, v. t.; 1. To interpret (as a riddle, etc.); hence: to foresee; foretell; as, to read the future. 2. To go over, esp. understandingly, as characters or words, with or without utterance; peruse. 3. To learn of by perusal; as, to read the news. 4. Hence, to discern by observation of signs, as facial expression…
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Fourth Ed. of the Merriam Series, 1934 (Alice and Sara Hall’s dictionary)

I believe without exception that reading aloud to children, and reading with children, benefits them in countless ways and I aim here to count some of them. I believe we should read to our children—or to other people’s children, if we don’t have our own—from the moment they are born, and keep reading to them after they can read themselves, and read to them still sometimes when they are grown up and live far from home. I believe that the right sort of books help children to grow up with rich imaginative lives, which in turn helps them bear all that human beings must bear.

I have nothing against Harry Potter—he has babysat for my children for a gazillion hours, provided long quiet car rides, and soothed feverish brows. But I was dumbfounded when the first of the seven was published, and the buzz was that finally, finally, someone had written an exciting book about magic, a book children could love. At long last, the pundits said, kids had something good to read. What!? Who had fallen down on the job, I wondered, if kids hadn’t been reading Edward Eager and Alan Garner, T. H. White and Tolkien and George MacDonald? What about fairy tales and myths from all over the world? And what about all the books without literal magic, but full of magic all the same? Why weren’t kids being introduced to Elizabeth Enright and E. Nesbit, Maud Hart Lovelace and Noel Streatfeild? Were teachers at fault? Librarians?

Fruitless for me to lay blame—fruitful, instead, to make a positive effort for the good, to try to rectify the situation, to tell as many people as I can about the books I love, and to find out from others about all the wonderful books they read growing up, read them, and spread the word about those as well. I want especially to make sure that we keep alive books from earlier in the twentieth century and before (see “revive”, below), so that we have many flavors of prose and poetry to share with our children and each other. That said, if I read a book written yesterday that I love, love, love…what, I’m not going to tell you about it?

People who love books want other people to experience and love the books they love. Reading may appear a solitary act, but in fact it is communal through both space and time. When I read a book I am entering a conversation between the writer and everyone he or she has known, and all the other writers whose books she’s read, with whom she’s been in conversation through the years, and between me and everyone I go on to talk about the book with. In the mid-14th century “conversation” meant “living together, having dealings with others,” and came earlier from the Latin for “to live with, keep company with.” My husband is woven tightly into this conversation, my father, who taught me to read, my children, my family, my friends. In the actual moment of reading, caught in the act, in flagrante delicto, the conversation I hear the loudest is among the line of readers and writers who lead to this particular book in my hands just now.

write

write, v.t.; 2. To compose or produce as an author. 3. To set down in writing as being; to style; call… —v.i. 2. To express ideas in written words; compose. 3. To compose, send, or communicate by, letters. 4. To be regularly employed in writing…
—ibid.

When I write a book it’s the same. Everyone I’ve read is there—Jane Austen and Laurie Colwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Josephine Tey, Robertson Davies and Jhumpa Lahiri and John Crowley—and everyone I’ve ever known—my siblings, my neighbors, my light-verse writing great-grandmother. My characters are there, as well, chattering away noisily themselves. Who says writing is a solitary act? It’s a party—one long early morning or late night talk fest.

This blog is one room at the party. I hope a bunch of parents pass through, looking for ideas about what to read their children, or why to read to their children. And I hope other book lovers come, too, wanting to join the conversation. Because I am as obsessed with food and cooking as I am with books, I’m pretty sure it’s the room with all the good eats, the tart I have to make because my cousin brought me plums she picked this afternoon, the soup that speaks of winter and evenings around the wood stove. Food is important, as well, because nourishing food, cooked with love and care, helps us to revive (see “revive”, below). (And while we’re here, I will share an almost foolproof weight loss technique, the only one you’ll ever need, etc. Maybe I’ll even try it sometime and let you know how it goes, though I am pretty sure it works. Ready? Drink lots of water, starting first thing in the morning, and eat only food you cook yourself. Can you imagine? If you’re worrying already about loss of social life, then loosen up the definition a little to include food cooked by your friends. But forget about Twinkies.) Sometimes I might set up a projector in the middle of the room, shining toward that long blank wall, because movies tell great stories, too. And if you feel like it, one night, we could roll up the rug and dance.

revive

re-vive´, v.i.; 1. To return to consciousness or life; recover life, vigor, or strength; become animated or invigorated anew; become active, operative, valid, or flourishing again. —v.t. 3. To recover from neglect or disuse; restore; as, to revive a play. 4. To renew in the mind or memory; reawaken; refresh.
—ibid.

I will also ask us to stop sometimes and look around, to smell the roses, smell the coffee. Most of us are run off our feet from dawn to dusk in this modern email-stricken world. Those of us raising kids, looking after house and home, working a day job, honoring our artistic aspirations in the wee hours, may feel especially so. Really—I am pretty damn sure I am not alone in this. If I remind you to pause, it is to remind myself.

The world may be going to hell in a handbasket. Possibly it always has been. Possibly things are more dire than ever. So? Reading to your kids can only help. Raising children who feel connected, because they have snuggled reading in their loved ones’ laps, who are imaginative, because stories have entered their ears and turned to pictures in their heads, who are literate, because they have been raised with language flowing around them, who are more able to sift through the various forms of doublespeak prevalent today, can only help. Baking cookies with your kids, or bringing a slice of cake to a neighbor, or having your friends around for stew—these acts can only help. Paying attention to beautiful things around us, beautiful moments in our day, can only help. Making a positive effort for the good can only help.

try this at home

As for how to get around in here: use the tag cloud to find books geared toward various ages, but remember that these age groupings are quite general. A strange thing certain experts have done is suggest that kids should only read books geared for their age level, or containing words they already know. How on earth are they going to learn new words, then? Read your kids something hard, sometimes, and make sure to throw in some books from the 19th century, and before, as well as the 20th and the 21st, so they can handle all kinds of syntax. Don’t forget poetry. And if you’re all grown up, and you missed some of these books as kids, it’s not too late to devour them now. You can find categories of recipes in the tag cloud, too, or browse through the Recipes category on the menu bar. Drop me a line at readwriterevive (at) gmail (d0t) com, or leave a comment, if something strikes you, or if you know a good joke (people are always telling jokes at parties). Go to the Learning to Read page and tell us how you learned to read, who taught you, what it was like when the words ceased to be black and white marks on the page and became visions in your brain. Happy reading…

Unless otherwise credited, all photos, graphics and text © Juno Lamb.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chris Canfield October 6, 2010 at 10:48

Testimony one: When my daughter, whom my wife* and I had read to since she was born**, was at least five but maybe six years old, she asked me, “Papa, what’s coke?” She meant Coca Cola.

Testimony two: My mom stopped reading to me when I was five or six because my younger sisters were toddlers, and eighteen months apart. As a result, neighborhood games of football, soccer, hockey, baseball, capture-the-flag, kick-the-can and ’60s and ’70s TV sitcoms stole a childhood of books from me, but as promised above, “if you missed some of these books as kids, it’s not too late to devour them now.” Thanks to reading aloud to my kids, and listening to my wife*** read aloud to our kids and to me, eighty percent of the authors mentioned above are now (and forever) part of my conversation.

*the dame writing this blog
**first reading: Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” excerpts; she was not more than 12 hours old
***see * above

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