This article is taken from the book Hand that Rocks the Cradle.
The year I turned five my mother read the Little House series to us kids. That began a long procession of books she and Dad read to us. The pictures I drew in my mind of those stories decorate my childhood memories. They molded me.
I want to help you to read to your children.
Stories broaden horizons. By listening, children experience more people and places than they might in their short childhood. On a cozy couch, parents can take the family Around the World in Eighty Days with Jules Verne.
Good books teach character. Charles Dickens describes villains in Oliver Twist that he contrasts with the innocent waif, Oliver – who is kidnapped by Fagin the thief-trainer. Authors teach good qualities by contrasting them with bad. Children learn values like curiosity, love, and adventure.
Listening comprehension comes before reading comprehension. Children learn to understand concepts and draw inferences from the stories they hear. Children who are read to have stronger language skills – larger vocabularies and improved memory and sequencing abilities. They learn to read difficult books sooner.
Reading teaches writing. Listening to E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web imprints his style in a child’s memory. Good books are the work of great minds. Listening to them teaches children what good writing sounds like.
Stories teach history. The Scarlet Pimpernel spurred me to learn about France and the Revolution. This led me to Napoleon and then the lost Louis XVII. Howard Pyle’s Men of Iron teaches more about medieval life than any textbook. History is something to experience, and we do this in stories.
Reading aloud builds family bonds. It was comforting and reassuring to sit cozily next to my mother on a windy winter afternoon while she read to us Irving’s The Alhambra. I remember our whole family listening suspended in our seats as Dad read Russell’s The Wreck of the Grosvenor. Every time Dad asked if he should stop, we would shout for him to go on.
My mother read in the afternoon when school was done. She used reading aloud as a reward. She asked us to be somewhat quiet, but we could play with our toys or art.
She wanted us to ask questions when we did not understand something. Sometimes she asked questions to see if we were catching it all. Sometimes she asked us to retell what we heard at the end of a chapter; this is called narration.
Mother read for an hour or two depending on how soon her voice tired. Sometimes we would continue enwrapped by an exceptionally bonnie tale all afternoon long. In showing her love for reading, Mother catalyzed the love in us.
My dad read from a different book before bedtime. He read more action and adventure. There is something about Sherlock Holmes and stories like Treasure Island that lends them to being read in the evening.
Don’t read boring books. Read books you’re enthusiastic about yourself. Your kids will like them too. Challenge yourself to read books you think are difficult. It’s like exercising your reading muscles. Young children may not seem to catch something at first, but the details have been tucked away in their memory.
Audio books are wonderful. Each performance adds a voice and interpretation to the reading. Our family has some favorite readers. Audio books can be good for road trips. If you feel intimidated by reading aloud, you might start with audio books.
What are the “classics”? If you ask a librarian, she will tell you the classics are books that have endured the test of time. (Some people get these confused with ancient Greek and Roman literature.) To me, classic books are ones that have found their way into the hearts and minds of readers for several generations. They’ve lasted.
Should you read only the classics? No. Not all classics are good for children. And there are good modern books that have not yet gathered enough dust to be called “classic.”
I recommend avoiding light reading – books that use small vocabularies and don’t develop their characters. Examples might be the Hardy Boys series, Nancy Drew series, or The Boxcar Children. I’d avoid abridged books also. If a book is good enough for your children, it is good enough to read in the author’s original words.
For parents who have never read aloud, I recommend some simple stories that go off with a bang: Penrod, The Door in the Wall, The Matchlock Gun, Johnny Tremain, King of the Wind, or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
For parents who want to try something harder, I recommend Hitty: Her First Hundred Years; Men of Iron; Lassie Come-Home; The Yearling; The Hobbit; Swallows and Amazons; or Swiss Family Robinson.
For parents who really want a challenge, I recommend The Moonstone, Les Misérables, Ivanhoe, The Black Arrow, or Ben-Hur.
Copyright March 01, 2008, all rights reserved. 16098 views