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I spent a brief time as a volunteer with a literacy program for parents and young children. As part of the training, each volunteer was asked to draw their first memory that involved a book. When we shared our pictures we found that each person had drawn a young child being read to by an adult. Those pictures were about much more than reading, they were about relationship.
I remember sometimes thinking “Oh, not another book” when my son was young and wanted yet another story before bed. Now I know that those were some of the most wonderful times ever. He loved the books with repetition and loved to read them over and over. The only time he ever damaged a book was as a two year old when his grandfather was reading him Chicka, Chicka, Boom Boom . He was so excited about what he knew would be on the next page that he couldn’t wait and tore the page trying to turn it. My favorite book to read to him was Something From Nothing. It was given to us before he was born and has two sets of wonderful illustrations on each page with predictable repetitive language and a surprise ending. It’s still a favorite for me, and I’m happy to read it to any child who comes in the bookstore.
A customer came in recently to get a book for his granddaughter. I showed him several books on the topic he requested. He looked at one and said that although she was a good reader that it was above her ability and then put it aside. I agreed that it was not at her reading level, but told him it would be a great book to read to her. He seemed surprised by my suggestion and his response was one I hear all too often—“We don’t read to her now that she can read by herself.” That answer made me sad.
Of course it’s important that children learn to and spend time reading independently, but being read to is still important. There are several years after a child learns to read when he or she can listen to and comprehend on a much higher level then he or she can read independently. Those are the years when you can still read out loud, maybe a chapter or two each night of a classic children’s novel or a new exciting chapter book. It helps develop vocabulary and language skills. It also gives you more of that precious time together. As you read aloud, you might encourage your child or grandchild to talk to about the book, ask questions, give their opinions about characters or predict what might happen next. If something in the book’s plot in some way mirrors a real-life situation, you have another way to discuss what is going on in the child’s life.
My favorite children’s novels that we read aloud include Peter Pan, Number the Stars and all of the Harry Potter books. I remember being amazed that a four year old would listen so intently when we read Peter Pan, written in language 100 years old . Number the Stars taught me things I didn’t know about WWII and allowed us a way to discuss war with our elementary aged child. My favorite Harry Potter memory—We had taken my son’s best friend on vacation with us and each night we read from one of the Harry Potter books. I overheard their very serious conversation about whether the character Snape was good or bad. I realized that all those nights of reading Harry Potter had given my son the framework to consider and evaluate how good and evil play out in Harry’s world and in ours.
Reading Out Loud—good education and some very good memories!