What do I LOVE about reading? Just about everything!
I love learning new things, hearing various characters’ perspectives, and being able to expand my understanding of those perspectives. I loved reading to our children as they were growing up because I could see so clearly the interest and learning that emerged as we moved through so many remarkable books for children. And I’ve certainly loved reading with my grandchildren during our visits together. In these reading times, I’ve learned more about each of them, we’ve enjoyed and shared our thoughts about the very interesting things that emerge in books that we’re reading, and we’ve often simply enjoyed the sweetness of time spent together in reading.
Why is reading stories to our children so important (and often so much fun)? And why is reading sometimes hard, sometimes inspiring, but almost always full of new ideas and new learning for our children?
One answer is that in reading, we (adults and children) very often learn new things as we read—and often learn much more about those “new things” than we might have thought possible. In reading excellent children’s books, we help our children (and our students, for those who teach) understand more about themselves, more about others, and more about those with whom we live and play and learn.
In going through many of the children’s books that we’ve read with our children and grandchildren over the years, some definitely stand out for their deeply thoughtful perspectives, observations, and important understandings about children’s learning and so many aspects of children’s lives as they grow up within their families, neighborhoods and the schools they attend.
One of my favorite children’s books, by Patricia McKissack (author) and Jerry Pinkney (illustrator), is The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll, published in 2007. This story describes a family with three children growing up during the time of the Depression. Mama and Daddy both work very hard, and their three daughters (Eddy Bernice, Nella, and Dessa) work at doing the things their parents need them to do, and spend a lot of time playing together when they can. As Christmas nears, the family’s middle daughter Nella makes it very clear that the only thing she wants for Christmas is a “Baby Betty” doll. Her big sister, Eddy Bernice, scolds her: “We’re in a Depression! Why are you wishin’ for somethin’ you’re never going to get?” Nella refuses to give up her hopes, though, and sends a letter off to Santa Claus asking for a Baby Betty doll.
The girls fussed and fussed at each other, until finally they agreed that Baby Betty should belong mostly to Nella. So Nella took Baby Betty, sang to her, played with her, told her stories and looked out a window periodically to see what Eddy Bernice and Dessa were doing outside. She soon decided to tell Baby Betty a Br’er Rabbit story, even though Baby Betty couldn’t respond. After that, she looked out the window again, saw her sisters making string sculptures, and heard them chatting away with each other. Then she decided to make a tea party for herself and Mama and Baby Betty. Baby Betty couldn’t respond, though, when Nella asked her if she liked the tea. Mama came over to Nella, put her arms around her, and said softly, “I think your sisters miss you.” Nella, feeling pretty grumpy, responded, “Doesn’t seem like it.” Mama responded, “Well, why don’t you invite them to your party? I don’t think Baby Betty will mind.” Nella thought for a moment, then grabbed Baby Betty and ran outside where Eddy Bernice and Dessa were playing. Eddy Bernice, sounding a little grumpy, said, “What do you want? We’re busy.” Nella said, “Baby Betty wants you to come to our tea party.” “She does??” Dessa asked. “Mmm-hmmm,” Nella said. And Nella told Eddy Bernice that she would get to pour the pretend tea first, and told Dessa that she would get to sit at the head of the tea table. Then she hugged Baby Betty and said, “You know, she can’t do much . . . but she sure is pretty.” They all giggled, and Nella handed Baby Betty to her sisters.
And for the rest of Christmas day, they played with their doll. They sang Christmas carols, shared stories, and laughed and clapped. They munched on peppermint candy and orange wedges, and ate one raisin at a time (so they’d last). And as Nella poured another pretend cup of tea, she said, “Isn’t this the best Christmas ever?”
The marvelous realities of excellent children’s books (and there are so many!) is that they most often convey both the enjoyable and the difficult realities of life and growing up: family life, friendships with others, and the many learnings we experience as we grow up—all of which are so important to children’s understanding of the life they’re living and the opportunities for all of the learning and ‘doing’ that are possible in this life.
What do I LOVE about reading? The amazing power it has to enrich children’s lives and learning as they grow up—and the equally amazing power it also has to enrich parents’ lives, learning, knowledge, and understanding of their children.