29 AugReading to Kids Who Can Read
There are loads of studies out there that show that reading to children when they are young can give them all kinds of advantages in life. I read to my kids when they were young, but it wasn’t a plan on giving them advantages in life—it was because it was so dang enjoyable. One by one they learned how to read by themselves and soon I had no one left to read to. Hah. Fat chance.
Long after my children could read I was still reading books to them. How long? Well, I read My Antonia with my seventeen-year-old daughter just a few weeks before she went to college. Why would I read to a college age child who has read hundreds of books by herself? It was magical time spent with her, that’s why. We sat in the same room, usually not near each other, me reading and she sorting, cleaning, or packing up old items for storage. That doesn’t sound like quality time spent together, but the book was the thing. It bridged our separate worlds and we found ourselves standing amid the sunflowers on the rolling Nebraska plains, trembling at the story of the wolves and the bride and groom, enchanted as we watched Antonia’s children spill out of the cellar. It was magical time spent with my daughter (did I already say that?) who has now left home.
Last night I finished Bridge to Terabithia with my eleven-year-old daughter. I read that book as a kid and I bawled. I read it again to some of my kids who have grown up already. I bawled again. Last night I cried one more time with Jess as he sat beside the creek with his dad holding him. My daughter, who had her back to me, become aware of the silence as I paused to get a hold of myself and looked over her shoulder to see if I was okay. It took several weeks to read this book to her because it isn’t always easy to get together to read. She read several books herself in the meantime. But Bridge to Terabithia is now a shared experience in our lives. It happened to both of us at the same time.
After reading to my eleven-year-old daughter I cornered my sixteen-year-old daughter to read another chapter of The Scarlet Letter. My relationship with this daughter is more complex than with the other two. I understand this daughter the least and find it more difficult to be at ease with her. It could be true that she reads more books in a year than all my other children put together. Many of the books she reads are dark and dystopian. When I decided I needed to read a book with her I started with Good Omens by Neil Gaimen and Terry Pratchett, but then switched to The Scarlet Letter. Switching to The Scarlet Letter seemed risky, but it’s turning out pretty well. The Scarlet Letter was written 164 years ago. Much of the dialogue is in King James Bible language. Could such a book interest a sixteen-year-old girl who reads what she reads? I’m always worried that when I ask her if we can read another chapter she will tell me she’s tired of the book and to forget it. So far that hasn’t happened. In fact as I read chapter three last night I sensed her listening very closely. Roger Chillingworth was interviewing his fallen wife in prison. She is afraid he is going to poison her with the medicine he gives her to calm her down. My daughter had several good questions about the nature of Roger and of Hester. My daughter and I inhabit different worlds most of the time, but last night we met in that 1600’s New England prison and had a nice chat.
Can you read to older sons, too? You bet. I am reading Cynthia Voight’s Homecoming to my thirteen and nine-year-old sons. They are captivated as Dicey leads her younger siblings on an urban journey of hundreds of miles with little money to a destination where they may not be wanted. I can see in my older son’s eyes the thought as he considers the decisions that Dicey has to make. We are making the journey together.
There is no doubt that reading to young children is important. But don’t think for a moment that the reading has to stop when they can read to themselves. You think, when your children are small, that you will always have that close relationship to them. You won’t. They grow older and things change. How many Mom or Dad blogs do you read where the children are teenagers? Not many. It’s because when your kids become teenagers they aren’t cute any more. Your relationships become complex and difficult to understand. Somehow, in spite of these difficulties, I have been able to continue reading with my children. Through the books we meet on neutral grounds, have beautiful common experiences, and understand our worlds and each other a little better.