Like a lot of modern moms, I began reading to Son No. 1 in utero. I wanted to give him every possible advantage on his life’s journey—a head start of sorts—so I read little board books aloud to him as he floated in his temporary home of embryonic goo and poked his elbows into my ribs. I imagined his brain absorbing those words and ideas, his heart calmed by the steady measure of my voice.
When Son No. 1 was eighteen months old, he would refuse to lie down for a nap until I’d read one of his little books. By that time, I was awaiting the arrival of Son No. 2 and was absolutely exhausted more often than not. Sometimes I’d turn two pages instead of one or pretend the story was finished when it wasn’t, and he’d usually catch me and complain vociferously. All that mattered was the book.
While his second-place status meant he rarely had my full attention, Son No. 2 did get to hear me read to Son No. 1 every single day from his crib or from his bouncy seat perched on the kitchen table or from his blanket on the living room floor next to the dog. And he tagged along on wobbly legs as we visited the library week after week, listening to stories read aloud by the librarians and then picking out our own jewels to take home.
Does having that all-important head start make kids joyful, enthusiastic readers, lovers of books great and small? You bet it does, as least in our case! Son No. 1 still loves to read. He loves to read so much, in fact, that he’ll continue to read when he should be getting ready for school or making his way to the dinner table or going to bed. I sometimes have to surreptitiously insert a bookmark and close a book with his nose still in it to make him stop reading.
I’m at home wherever there are books, and I’m the type of mom who thinks hanging out at the library on a Saturday afternoon is fun. And while my boys may hem and haw at the idea of having to set foot inside an actual library during summer vacation, they immediately zoom off in different directions as soon as the door opens before them, Son No. 1 to find the latest Percy Jackson or Heroes of Olympus installment, Son No. 2 to the comics section, searching in vain for a Calvin and Hobbes collection he hasn’t yet devoured.
So what do you do if your son or daughter isn’t a born reader? Every kid has an interest, and every interest, no matter how obscure, has had a book or magazine devoted to it. Is your son begging for a hermit crab, guinea pig, or gerbil? Say OK but only if he first reads up on how to care for said pet. Does your daughter want to learn to water-ski in Sarasota Bay? There’s a magazine for that called—you guessed it—Water Ski.
And—oh, yeah—read with and to your kids, no matter how old they are. Last year, Son No. 2’s teacher read the student version of Patrick Smith’s A Land Remembered aloud to the class. Every student loved it. Even those kids who weren’t avid readers enjoyed listening to a simply worded, action-packed historical novel read slowly and purposefully by a teacher who understood the power of a well-placed pause. They could identify with Zech MacIvey, a boy their own age, even though Zech’s story takes place 150-plus years before their own. And they could identify with their patient teacher, who obviously loved the book as much as they did.
Kris Rowland is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader whose clients include Pineapple Press.