We finished The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on the way to Vancouver — the last three chapters or so. We had started reading it the day before in the midst of unfinished chores, but what better time to read than when the child says, “Let’s read!”
There’s never been a better excuse for shifting priorities.
A few days before, we had picked up The Wizard of Oz from the library and dedicated two overcast afternoons on the front porch and a sunny one to reading about Dorothy’s happenings. I had only read an abridged version as a kid, so we savoured each chapter together. You can call a book remarkable when a scarecrow inspires you. Read it and you’ll see for yourself.
I mostly read to my youngest these days but my oldest joins in sometimes. He reads on his own and I choose to credit at least part of his voracious appetite for reading to the fact that we had countless mornings and afternoons of reading.
The first book my oldest son and I picked up from the library when he was one and a half or so was called Anna and the Rain.
I must have read it 20 times only that first day. They usually let you borrow them for three weeks. I was new to the concept of reading a book until your tongue becomes numb. For veteran readers, Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks is always a good book to see where you stand in regard to tongue numbness.
A few months later, the library put Anna and the Rain up for sale. It was a bit worn, they said, and no wonder; loved books often turn raggedy. A mere 25 cents later, the book was ours. To us, it was priceless; it still is.
When my youngest came along, he picked his preferred book on a rainy Vancouver morning at the neighbourhood library: The Gunniwolf.
By then, I was well versed in reading a book many times in a row, voices and all — and the anticipatory giggles only a child that young could come up with were precious fuel; eyes wide and curious every time, as if we were reading it for the first time. The book never grew old with either of us.
When you read to a child, you open a door that lets them see farther than you can imagine — taunting them to learn about the world and calling to them in a way that only books can.
I never read to them because I wanted them to do well in school or to keep up with any recommended amount of reading. We read because it makes sense, because we need to do that or else my world, or theirs, would not have all the colours in it.
From the simplest rhyme books that are never simplistic, to more complex stories that go on for many chapters, reading with my sons has been a privilege. I never shied away from reading big books from early on either. I grew up with big books, and long and intricate fairy tales being read to me. I always thought that children could understand a lot more than we think. Now I know they do.
I can recall many days that have wrestled me into a state of mind that was anything but peaceful and to many of them, there is a jolly tag attached by my kids when they asked “Can we read?” No matter how tough the day, reading a book that’s smurfing good will make you smile. Smurf’s honour!
Reading is not a “follow the rules” affair, either, that is bound to squish some of the fun out of it. Pick books that abound with silliness, pick books with your eyes closed if you have to, and tiptoe back to your childhood for the books that you loved. Read book backwards, if your child asks for it. Mine did. It made no sense, the book I mean, but then it did.
Reading to a child, yours or not, is an adventure like no other.
Closeness that is exclusive to that time together also comes with secret keys to a magic world you both step into. It’s the gift that will grow with every word and the only side effect I can think of is that every book in your child’s library will have a memory attached to it so that giving them away might become problematic.
When people refer to books as being alive, they may refer to the world inside the covers, but to me the books that are alive are the ones that have memories attached to them. Every time you read with your child, a piece of your soul stays behind in that book.
I cannot think of a better way to stop time but by building a fort of whispers, silly giggles, cuddles and words. Words to live by.
Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on September 21, 2013 under the same title.