Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Raising a Reader

“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” That quote from Louisa May Alcott has always made me chuckle. The wonderful thing about books, of course, is that they do literally “turn our brains” – in new directions.

In addition to all the books I want to read, or in some cases feel I need to read, my ever growing TBR pile is expanding in a new way. The sweet girl (fast heading for her tenth birthday) has begun to recommend books to me.

It happened just the other day, and not for the first time. She and her dad were out of town last week for her step-grandad’s funeral. She took along her big pink backpack filled with books and art supplies for the car. On Sunday, unpacking the bag, she kept bringing out books and telling me what she’d read while they were gone. One of them was a book called Funny Frank by the delightful Dick King-Smith. I had pointed her in the direction of the King-Smith shelf at the library (we do love his books) but this isn’t one I’ve read before. “It’s hilarious,” she told me. “You need to read it.”

Yes, I have a new recommending reading friend – my daughter. I find this both delicious and a little strange. How did this happen so fast? Wasn’t she just chewing on her copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar last week?

Yes, we’ve raised a reader – in both conscious and unconscious ways.  We’ve read books to this child from day one – okay, actually from well before day one, if you count all the reading aloud we did when she was in utero.

There have been so many good reading memories since. I recall D. reading to her from the book of Genesis when she was about a week old. I remember the beauty of watching her lie on her little gymani playmat, when she was perhaps four or five months old, and seeing her eyes trail over to the tiny little “Baby Einstein” board books she loved so much her first year – their chunky square size a perfect fit for her hands, their cardboard so good to chew, and all those great photographs to stare at! Then there were the accompanying sound effects stage…oh, how we all loved Moo, Baa, La La La.  

I remember countless repeated readings of beloved bedtime stories (Everywhere Babies, Goodnight Me, Goodnight You, Guess How Much I Love You) and later on, reading myself hoarse on repeat requests of longer favorites – Flopsy Bunnies, Make Way for Ducklings, The Seven Silly Eaters, the chapter in Winnie the Pooh where Piglet gets a bath. (Oh, and anything by Jane Hissey. The above picture, taken almost five years ago, was a path the sweet girl made in our kitchen...a path of Jane Hissey books. I called it the Jane Hissey path to success!) And poetry, poetry, poetry. Later on came read-aloud upon read-aloud of longer books…snuggled on the couch or on the bed, shoulder to shoulder on park benches in town, read by flashlight on the car on long trips as we wended our way through Heidi, A Little Princess, the Ramona and Henry books, the Narnia books, the Hobbit, and so many other wonderful books. (We still do this and always will…we were a read-aloud family before we became parents! Check my sidebar for our family’s current read-aloud books.)

In recent years, since the sweet girl became an independent reader, there has also been the joy of seeing her curled up with a good book. From the first halting attempts to get through Hop on Pop to seeing her sprawled on the bed or curled up in a windowsill reading Sarah Plain and Tall or Jenny and the Cat Club or Betsy, Tacy and Tib, I have loved every second of watching my girl become a reader.

But it still throws me when she reads something that I haven’t. I know the novelty of this will soon pass – as she grows and reads even on her own, it will happen more often. I will not always be the navigator and trail-guide, though I will hold onto that role for as long as I possibly can, and then trust to the fact that she has been so steeped in good, rich literature her whole life that she will make good choices about what to read (and be able to discern why she doesn’t like something as well as why she does).

Mostly when she shares a book, it’s because she loves it – and that’s a great joy to me, that she is learning by osmosis that good stories are gifts. Only once so far has she asked me to read a book because she wasn’t entirely sure how much she liked it – and she wanted my opinion. I read it and had a mixed opinion too. I saw places in the story that I wasn’t sure she’d been ready for, that I figured went over her head or simply didn’t “register.” And that’s okay. That will happen sometimes too. Once again, I have to trust that what she’s learned through reading and listening to the good, deep, rich stories will hold her firmly in place as she encounters new reading territory.

But for now, I think I’ve got to make a new and special place in my reading stack for the books she recommends. I may not always feel like I have time to add one more thing to that stack, but I treasure that she wants to gift me with the stories she’s enjoying, and I treasure even more that she still wants us to share that reading experience so we can talk  about it. So onto the reading stack goes Funny Frank this week. Thank you, sweet reader girl, for taking the time to recommend another book to your reader mom.


Erin said...

You're definitely raising that reader right! It's such a fun process becoming more and more of a reader and expanding one's personal knowledge of the story world with each new book. And starting to add to it with brand-new stories! If you want to be a writer, read...

I'm going to have to see if our library has that book. I do love Dick King-Smith!

Beth said...

It is fun. I love talking about books...with just about anyone and everyone...but talking about them with my daughter is a special joy. I love seeing her eyes light up when she's recommending one especially!