At first they just chewed on them. Our board book copies of Helen Oxenbury's The First Day of School and The Ballet Class were covered in teeth marks. I even got a bathtub version of Peter Rabbit so it would stand up better to the wear. But we persisted and little by little they learned to turn the pages and not tear them. Living outside of the United States, we had to invest in buying books. Grandparents were a great source of them. My mother-in-law once arrived with a suitcase filled with dozens of Golden Books, one particular book of fairy tales from around the world and the entire collection of Beatrix Potter's stories. We read at all hours of day and night. I could recite Margaret Wise Brown's Good Night Moon by heart, because it was the book Kent had to hear before he went to sleep. I looked forward to summer visits to my parents' house in College Station, where I would hit the public library every day to check out as many books as I could. I myself had become an independent reader at about the age of five but my own children seemed to enjoy listening to me more than reading on their own. I remember the day Miranda took on the responsibility of satisfying her own reading curiosity. She was in the fourth grade. We were traveling and I was reading one of the Hardy Boys books aloud to her. At some point I had to stop. She could not wait until the next opportunity for me to read to her because she wanted the mystery solved. So she picked up the book and finished it by herself. Safaa, on the other hand, started playing a mind game with me. When I would encourage him to read on his own, he would tell me he hated reading! He knew how much it meant to me to instill a love of reading in them and I was not about to let him off the hook. One day I picked up a copy of one of the Magic Treehouse books and began reading silently but making comments out loud: Wow! I can't believe that happened, Oh! No! don't do that! Finally the curiosity got him as well and he snatched the book from my hands to read the story on his own.
Once we moved back to Texas, getting a library card was one of the first things we did. The Cedar Park library has a great children's collections and we took full advantage of it. We could get up to 35 titles at a time! I was always surprised when I would overhear mothers tell their children that they were only taking three books today. Why? It's free, why not take thirty five. If you don't like them you can bring them back and get another thirty five. That is how we read every single Dr. Seuss book. That is how we came to know authors and series that we love to this day. And then there were audiobooks, the best strategy for keeping the peace in the car when running errands or on long road trips. We only ran into a problem once when the three year old Kent could not stand the voice of the reader of the Harry Potter books and we had to wait for him to fall asleep before we could listen to that story.
Before sitting down to write this post I asked all four of my children who are now 25, 22, 18 and 16, to send me a list of their favorite children's books. Instead they sent me names of authors. I realized that through reading they had made some special friends who had introduced them to ideas, adventures and language that neither of their parents or kids on the playground or teachers in their classrooms could have done. Here is the list they sent me:
John Scieszka and his The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and Squids Will be Squids for their satirical take on traditional tales are Niku's favorite. They all love Patricia Polacco and her stories that are inspired by her family. We first met Tomie DiPaola on an episode of Barney and then again in person when he came to the Wildflower Center in Austin. He is a prolific writer and his Strega Nona stories as well as the wildflower stories (The Legend of the Bluebonnet, The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush and the Legend of the Poinsettia) are Niku's favorites as well. Another author/friend that is fondly remembered is Kevin Henkes with his mice characters that reenact life as a kindergartener in such beautiful language and always with a good resolution. And then there was Chris Van Allsburg, not just an author but a beautiful illustrator. Even I had to think really hard to decipher the inner meaning of The Wretched Stone or The Sweetest Fig.
They also wanted me to write about the read-alouds that their father continued well into teenage-hood of his favorite books, the Harry Potter series and then the Lord of the Rings, multiple times. Most nights he was supposed to put them to sleep by reading but it was him who fell asleep first!
It's been a while since we have read a book aloud together. But I can say that all four of them have become readers of one sort or another. They have definitely become thinkers and learners and admirers of the written language and stories of the diverse people of this world. This summer support your public library, it's free, it's cool and you will meet some really cool people there.