Raising a Reading Family

Reading aloud has got to be one of the very best parts of parenthood. Not only are you given the opportunity to re-acquaint yourself with and share the books that you loved as a child–the special ones that gently shaped and influenced you as you grew–but you can delve into new favorites with your children, sharing the thrill of discovering a perfect story together. Picture books are a great delight, but I began looking forward to reading aloud books like Little Women and The Secret Garden, Ramona the Pest and A Wrinkle in Time from the earliest days of my first pregnancy. I waited and waited until my daughter was old enough to listen to longer books, and then when I could wait no longer, shortly after her fourth birthday, we read Charlotte’s Web while her baby brother napped in the afternoons. I don’t know how much she understood, but she adored the characters, and I was full of long-anticipated joy. On a difficult day, when nothing seemed to be going right, we could always find refuge and reconnection with Charlotte and Wilbur, snuggled up in her little bed. When her brother is four, we can read it again, the three of us.

Because that is the beauty of so many excellent children’s books: a four-year-old can enter into the story on one level (character) and a seven-year-old can access the story on another (theme). Both children can enjoy the rich language, the feeling of being transported, and above all, the intimacy of sharing the book with beloved family members. I saw the movie Tree of Life last month, and in it there are breathtaking scenes of a mother reading to her children unlike any I’d seen on film before. They communicated what reading together is all about: intimacy, love of language and art, communal imagination, a shared vocabulary that strengthens relationships and gives us new words to express ourselves. I always smile when my kids tell me they feel cross (hooray for classic children’s literature!), or break into one of Frances the Badger’s funny songs when a situation calls for it. What would we do without the shared language we cull from the books we read together? Something about those little references cements us as a family, as people who belong to one another.

Now that my daughter is a big six-year-old independent reader, I sometimes wonder if there will be a time when she will decline being read aloud to. It’s not that my heart doesn’t soar when I see her sitting motionless on the couch, absorbed in her book. It does! Silent, independent reading is a beautiful thing. But will she let her mama and papa cozy up to her and read aloud when she is in the thick of adolescence, and she needs space and independence in a way I can only imagine now? Or might our family’s reading traditions serve as a tether through hard times, when the struggles of growing up are particularly challenging to bear? I hope that reading aloud can always be that calm center for my kids as they get older, a place where they are enveloped in love, safety, and story.

Alice Ozma’s memoir, The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared is an encouraging testament to the momentum of reading together (she and her father read together every day during their “reading streak”: 3,218 days in a row). On her website, there are great suggestions for starting a reading streak of your own. It’s worth taking a look.

Find more on reading and parenting at my blog, Homemade Time. But before you go, tell us about what you’re reading at home. Any new favorites?

About Meagan Howell

Meagan Howell is a freelance writer and social worker who loves art, books, yoga, friends, music, being outside, and helping to build communities of all sorts. Meagan lives in Maryland with her husband and two children and writes about motherhood at Homemade Time.