Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Reading Promise

I read a book recently called The Reading Promise. It's written by a girl named Alice Ozma. If you like books as much as I do -- as much as she does -- that probably sounds familiar to you. Her librarian father named her after Alice in Wonderland and Ozma, the wise girl ruler in L. Frank Baum's Oz books. (If you've only known about or read The Wizard of Oz, get yourself the rest of them. They're lovely.) Ozma's book is a memoir about her and her father and what they called "The Streak." He read aloud to Ozma for at least 10 minutes every single night from the time she was 9 until she moved out of the house for college.

Every. Single. Night.

Can you imagine? How crazy is that? It is a little crazy; Ozma acknowledges that. But it's also amazing. And it had a profound effect on their relationship and her life. In short: they are close and she is a reader.

It seems so simple, but so many children grow up not knowing what a wonderful, transporting, miraculous thing reading is. And even more children grow up thinking of reading as a chore, something they have to do instead of something they get to do.

I believe very strongly in the power of reading. Book-smarts aren't everything, for sure, but books allow you to see things and hear things you might not otherwise. They take you outside yourself and your situation. Being able to read well usually translates into being able to write well, to speak well, to communicate well -- and anyone who's dealt with a nonverbal toddler knows that being able to communicate well is a life skill worth having.

For other people's kids, I push my agenda by buying books as gifts. Every year at Christmas, I buy books for local schools to give to children; it's the only charity I give to without fail.

My own kids go to the library regularly and receive books from us pretty often. They also see us read. It's actually one of few things I dislike about my Kindle: I worry they think I'm messing around on the internet when I'm reading that screen. I feel guilty reading the Kindle when my boys are around, guilt I never have when I let them play by themselves so I can read a physical paper-and-binding book. I nag my husband to make sure he reads in front of the boys so they see it isn't something just girls do. Maybe it's silly, but I think it's important they don't associate reading as something "just Mom does."

But what struck me about The Reading Promise was that reading was never a bargaining chip. Ozma's dad never skipped a night because she was being a brat and had to go to bed early. Even when she was a teenager and chafing at the rules, they read. It made me think about how I was using reading in our house. The Boy loves being read to before bed and some nights, we take that away. I'm not sure I'm OK with that. I mean, reading being a pleasurable enough activity that its being taken away is a punishment is better than reading being a punishment -- which I've heard of some people doing -- but still .... do I really want my kid to not read because he's being a little shit on particular evening? I don't know.

Maybe being read to will develop the listening skills The Boy and The Lad sometimes forget they possess.

What about you guys? Is reading part of your nightly schedule?


Jessica said...

I have the Kindle app for my iPad and I've been reading on it a lot lately. I have the same worry - that my daughter will think I'm just playing with my iPad again instead of knowing I'm reading. I guess she has Curious George books on my husband's Nook color, though, so she knows e-books exist. Still, I'd rather have her see me reading an actual book.

(By the way, we bought the Curious George e-books to save luggage space on a plane trip and it worked GREAT. Highly recommend.)

~she~ said...

What a neat story! Unfortunately, reading to my kids is always put on a back burner. The nighttime routine is so busy and hectic that I put it off in anticipation for my quiet moments alone. I think reading to your kids enhances their auditory skills. I'm a very visual learner and have a hard time retaining something that I can only hear and not see. But don't worry about the Kindle. It will just teach your kids how cool it is to mix learning with technology...something they will very much rely on in their schooling years. You could even read them a story from the Kindle, encouraging them to make up their own pictures.

d e v a n said...

We've always read to the kids, every night. However, we do sometimes take it away if they are being bratty during the bedtime routine, simply because it's the last thing left to take away during the day, if that makes sense. i don't know that it's a good idea though.

Cupcake Mama said...

I read every night and let LO pick out the book. Unfortunately, she picks the same book every night. I have noticed that when she is ready to go to bed, she flips the pages quickly and then points to her bed so I worry that she thinks it is something that has to be done rather than special time. I would love to do 10 minutes a night until she left for college but I hope that she picks anoter book.

Erica said...

We absolutely read books every night - at least 4. It's a big part of our night.

Sara said...

This is so a hot button topic for me. I LOVE READING. I always have. It is one of the most important traits that I hope to pass on to our children. We read at least two, maybe more, books every evening before bed. It's such a part of our routine that I hold it close to my heart.

My husband, on the other hand, is not a reader. He's never enjoyed books and rarely reads for "fun" unless it's a tech magazine article or world news online. However, I'm really happy he understands how important reading is to me and therefore to our kids.

In another life I would choose to be a librarian or an book editor. Total dream jobs.

k said...

We don't consistently read books right before crawling into bed, but Ezra takes a stack of 5-8 books with him to bed each night and reads them until he passes out. We go to the library once or twice a week for new books and both Ezra and Iris get soooo excited about the new pile.

As a librarian and a mother, it is still is one the things that makes me most proud is when Iris learned to turn pages one at a time; a fine motot skill that everyone was surprised she masterd while still so little.

Books are amazing.