Nature, Nurture, Nieces, and a Nephew — Reading to the Children in Your Lives

meandHreading    braxton's first christmas The following is a blog post by Writers & Books staff member, Rylie Day.

There’s certainly no question about it – I’m undeniably, unmistakably, and unashamedly addicted to the written word. Books, books, books, I love everything about them. Among my favorite places on planet Earth (besides Writers & Books, of course) is Barnes & Noble or, even better, between the wonderfully disorganized shelves of a used book store searching for a new read, scanning book sleeves, imagining what I might find on the pages that lie between the covers. I understand that not everyone is like this, that not everyone finds as much satisfaction, validation, and escape merely thinking about books, let alone reading and experiencing them. I get it (but I don’t). I don’t judge those that don’t take as much pleasure in reading as myself. But I must ask, what makes some people book worms and not others? What makes some people crave, long, and literally need books and language while others are content with an occasional easy read from time to time, and others go for the tabloids, and others still can’t be bothered with any sort of reading at all? (God forbid. I can’t imagine).

Well, like most things in my life, I can’t be entirely sure the answers to these questions. I can only speak for myself, and even then I can’t speak with utter clarity. What I do know is that my love of reading was instilled in me at a very young age. One of my very first (and dearest) memories is sitting in the rocking chair in my classroom, the story of Madeline open in my lap, with the rest of my preschool class staring up at me from the carpet, eyes wide in amazement, mesmerized by the “fact” that I could “read”. While I and my playmates were entirely sure that I read with confidence and fluency at the ripe young age of three, in hindsight, and after consultation with my mother since, this wasn’t quite the case. In reality, that book had been read to me so many times that I had it memorized solid. So memorized that I knew exactly when to turn each page and start “reading” the next one.

Among many, many other things, I have my absolutely astoundingly wonderful mother to thank for this. She made it point throughout my childhood to read to me and my sisters as much as we wanted (which was a lot). Every night before we went to bed, we each got to pick out a book. Naturally, we all wanted to sit next to Mom while she read. There being three of us and only one of her, she devised a rule that we each could sit next to her for two out of the three books we read.

I look back on these moments fondly, to say the least. They are gems. As are the evenings spent curled up in afghans by the fire while Dad read to us chapters of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia time and again (The only thing I’ve asked from him in his will is his collection of the original publications. Morbid, I know.). So what is the point of all my reminiscence? Well, quite frankly, I believe that my love of books stems quite directly from the fact that I was read to growing up, that words and books and stories and imagination were a valued part of my upbringing.

Thus, I’ve long vowed to instill the same love of reading and the like in my own children. Unfortunately, seeing as it would appear that none of my literary boyfriends are materializing to any degree in my real life (insert wishful, longing sigh here), I won’t have my own children to read to any time soon. For now then, and I certainly don’t feel like I’m settling, I choose to express how important reading and books are to my nieces and nephew. Each year for Christmas I give them each a book which I have picked out specifically for them and write a note to them in it, explaining why I chose it and giving them a little insight into what I’m learning watching them grow up. (I can’t wait to give my first this year to Royce, who will have just celebrated her first birthday). My hopes are that they will be able to enjoy these books, both now and when they’re older and able to understand and appreciate the magnitude of language, the written word, and the role that stories play in our lives. (This past Christmas, I admit, I got a little carried away and rather than one book I got them two large boxes consisting of anything from old Mother Goose tales to Barbie Princess love stories. Worse things have happened, I think.)

Selfishly, I want to be at least marginally responsible for this part of their rearing. I want them to be able to look back twenty years from now and be able to trace their love of words and reading (which I sincerely hope they carry with them into adulthood) to the fact that they had people in their lives, myself included, which cared enough to read to them, to drop whatever it was they were doing (if it in fact could be dropped without a considerable mess) and read the book that they had picked out. This is the same way I can look back at my own childhood now. I want them to be able to say, in their own words of course, “I’m lucky that Rylie loved to read to us so much.” Because I do. Let’s face it, who doesn’t want a two year old curled up next to you, latching on to your every word? Who isn’t humbled by the incessant, perpetual, illogical (or even spookily logical) questions of a four year old? I don’t care if it takes me a half an hour to get through a book that I could read in three minutes. I’ll provide her an answer for each and every question they have, no matter how simple or irrelevant. My reward? Watching her little mind work. My compensation? His little nod and “otay” at my answer.

This past week I came home from a six day vacation at the beach and had a serious case of post-vacation depression. (I’m definitely still recovering.) I decided that a visit to my sister’s house might prove to be therapeutic. As I predicted, the kids didn’t let me down. Within minutes of my getting there, Braxton, the two year old, came over to where I was sitting on the floor with several books in his hand. “You read me, Ryie?” Of course! “My want to read this one.” (He still hasn’t quite tackled the concept of “I” and, despite being an English major, I find poor grammar in small children not only acceptable, but preferable.) I hadn’t even turned much past the title page when Hayleigh, the four year old, was on my other side (much like my sisters, mom, and I – something which didn’t go unnoticed by me at the time). Questions ensued. (I admit, I didn’t quite know exactly why the boy chose to take off his hat when he did or why the mouse’s sweater was yellow, but I came up with something that satisfied them. Maybe reading to kids is just as much about using our imaginations as it is promoting the use of theirs.) By the end of the book (which we immediately re-read) I was feeling that Rochester’s lack of sand, sun, and sea wasn’t as bad as I was making it out to be. If just being there, reading with them wasn’t enough, a whisper in my ear from my favorite little boy certainly was the kicker. “My love when you read me, Ryie. My love you. My love you so much.”

My cup runneth over.