“When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”
I was reading a discussion on LinkedIn about people’s first reading experiences. I was struck by how important the stories about learning to read are to people, and I got to wondering how many of us had our love of reading set by our parents. My parents used to read to each other before bed and even on car trips. In fact, when they were embroiled in Dracula and it was my father’s turn to read, Mom got so caught up in the story that at one point she drove us off the road. No harm done though — it was a long stretch of highway in the desert and the road and the sand were on a level. My folks read to themselves and to us. And during the years when money tight, somehow there was always enough for my Scholastic book order.
When I became a parent myself, I ended up with two voracious readers. When my (now adult) daughter was in grade school, I found myself talking with a couple of her friends’ mothers about how to get our kids to do chores or eat dinner or sleep instead of reading constantly. One of the other mothers threw up her hands and said, ”What are we supposed to do? Punish our girls for doing what every other parent is bribing their kids to do?” (In case anyone is worried, even though we never came up with a solution for our dilemma, our kids have all managed to grow into lovely and successful young women.)
I’ve heard from great readers whose parents weren’t into books or simply didn’t think to encourage their kids to read. It’s true that books can find their way into lives even under the most difficult circumstances, but if we can introduce children to them early, invite them to meet new people through biographies, to explore new worlds through science fiction and fantasy, to savour new words — new languages! — we can teach them early to conceive of the world in new ways, ways that might just save us all.