Archive for the ‘Reading’ Tag
I like to keep a basket of rotating picture books in our family room. The kids, every one of them, enjoy discovering each new selection of books, and I love watching them turn the pages and READ. Even my grown-up fourth and sixth graders, who might think they are too big to check out picture books from the library, like to see what I’ve put in the basket. That makes me so happy. Picture books engage the senses on so many levels, and can be profound in their simplicity. Some are nuanced and sophisticated in ways chapter books can’t be. And they are always beautiful.
Today it was time to put out some Easter-inspired books. Easter-bunny that is. Here is what I chose:
HOP! by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Holly Meade. The perfect book for toddlers. It shows five adorable baby bunnies scratching, scritching, wiggling and twitching, and of course, hopping. A fun read-aloud, with rhyming words and repetitive sounds that make it 0h-so-accessible for the diaper crew. And the sweet little bunnies are a happy reminder of the bouncy baby you are reading to.
The next book is just as charming. Bunny Days by Tao Nyeu. It features not five, but six little bunnies. And these bunnies have a friend named Bear who helps them out of some very bunny business. Told in short episodes which are all set in a charming pastoral farmscape of soothing greens and blues, Bunny Days is the perfect combination of sweet and silly. Preschoolers will love to see Bear’s surprising solutions to the bunnies’ predicaments.
My last bunny book is Bunnies on the Go by Rick Walton, illustrated by Paige Miglio. The bunnies in this book love to be on the move, whether that means taking a bike or a balloon, a train or a truck. Each page gives a little hint of what is to come to the observant reader. I love the way the soft, cuddly-looking bunnies team up with all-terrain vehicles to make a book that both boys and girls can enjoy. Another bunny book by the same team is So Many Bunnies: A Bedtime ABC and Counting Book. My daughter used to love reading it, tucked up in her bed, when she was younger.
School starts this week. I just made my third trip to Target in as many days for last minute school supplies, socks, and Sterilite containers. The containers are part of my ambitious project to organize my pantry, which is a spin-off of my ambitious project to organize my recipes, which is a spin-off of my most ambitious project: This year I told my kids they can only have hot lunch once a week. The rest of the days I am sending them to school with a lunchbox. My motivation for doing this is that I want them eating healthier food. This means that I can’t just throw peanut butter on bleached white bread and add a bag of chips and a twinkie. But I have to make my kids believe that what I pack is as awesome as the aforementioned meal, or they’ll be wishing they could go back to hot lunches. I have told myself a hundred times over the last few days to calm down, I don’t have to get stressed out about this. I can find some simple, healthy things for their lunchboxes. But I AM stressed out. And I have located the major source of that stress: one of my all time favorite books as a kid: BREAD AND JAM FOR FRANCES by Russel and Lillian Hoban.
Jam on biscuits, jam on toast,Jam is the thing that I like most.
“I have a cream cheese-cucumber-and-tomato sandwich on rye bread,” said Albert. “And a pickle to go with it. And a hard-boiled egg and a little cardboard shaker of salt to go with that. And a thermos bottle of milk. And a bunch of grapes and a tangerine. And a cup custard and a spoon to eat it with.”
“I have a thermos bottle with cream of tomato soup,” she tells Albert the next day, “And a lobster-salad sandwich on thin slices of white bread. I have celery, carrot sticks, and black olives, and a little cardboard shaker of salt for the celery. And two plums and a tiny basket of cherries. And vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles and a spoon to eat it with.”
“I think it’s nice that there are all different kinds of lunches and breakfasts and dinners and snacks. I think eating is nice.”
Earlier this month I decided to acquaint my seven year old daughter, Hattie, with the infamous Anne-girl of the carrot
red hair. I just couldn’t wait any longer. I loved the Anne of Green Gables series when I was young, and any of L.M. Montgomery’s books I could find. Returning now with my daughter and finding Anne waiting for us in the pages of a book has been like reuniting with an old and dear friend.
At first I worried that Hattie might be a little young to understand the language and nuances of the book, but she follows closely along with every turn of the page. Tonight her eyes widened with horror when Josie Pye dared Anne to walk the ridgepole of Diana Barry’s roof, and when Anne broke her ankle and was bedridden, Hattie wanted to know, “Did Gilbert come to visit her?”
A favorite moment in our reading came the other night when we met Diana’s spinster aunt, Josephina Barry. In spite of Miss Barry’s boorish reputation and her imposing demeanor, Anne opens her heart to the older woman. This causes Miss Barry’s icy facade to melt away, and the two discover a surprising new friendship. That night when Anne returns home to Green Gables, she confides to Marilla, “Miss Barry was a kindred spirit, after all . . .You wouldn’t think so to look at her, but she is. . . Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
Those words ended the chapter, and as I closed the book Hattie looked at me and asked, “Do I have any kindred spirits?” We talked about special friends she has had over the course of her life, and then I tucked her into bed. But as I left her room I asked myself the same question. “Who have been my kindred spirits?”
The first to come to my mind was Teresa.
I met Teresa during my time as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was twenty-one. She was sixty years my senior. A white-haired woman living in Trieste, an Italian city that borders Slovenia. A city with hills so steep and wind so strong that handrails line the sidewalks — thick chains strung between iron posts.
Teresa was a member of the Mormon church, but was too old and frail to make the long trek to church on Sundays. So I would go and visit her each week with my companion, another missionary my age, and we would bring a message to share with her. Something that we hoped would be uplifting, strengthening in some way.
I learned right away that if anyone had strength to share, it was Teresa.
She would watch for us out her window, waiting for our arrival on the rattling bus that transported us around the city. There was always a hot meal waiting for us inside, and mugs full of rich, steaming cocoa. I had just arrived to Italy when I met her, and hardly knew any Italian. She didn’t know any English. But we both knew the songs of Ella Fitzgerald, and we first bonded over those bright, bouncy tunes.
In a way, those melodies we shared were a reflection of Teresa. She was as buoyant as the notes that float so effortlessly in Fitgerald’s vocals. She never complained about her health or her lonely life in her small, squarish apartment. She had a brightness to her that lifted her above the mundane. But at the same time that she floated buoyantly above discouragment, there was a deepness to her. A penetrating thoughtfulness and an anchoring strength.
On one of our visits, I asked Teresa if I could sing her a song from our church’s hymnal. She said yes and requested the hymn ”More Holiness Give Me.”
I was confused. I knew the song well. To me it represented all of my inadequacies — listing all the ways I failed to sanctify my life, and give precedence to spiritual matters. I felt the song was written for people like me, not for people like Teresa. In her tiny living room, sipping cocoa, I felt that if I could just open the right set of eyes I would see wisps of heaven trailing through the room, and angels moving among us.
But I had asked and she had answered. I sang the song.
More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.
More purity give me,
More strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More longing for home.
More fit for the kingdom,
More used would I be,
More blessed and holy
More, Savior, like thee.
She listened quietly, with her face turned to the window. She seemed to find solace in the words that I sang. I was glad. I would do anything I could to make her happy. But I still didn’t understand.
Not until now. Not until I thought about kindred spirits that night with Hattie, and remembered my surprise when Teresa asked me to sing the hymn. I realized Teresa spent her life working to have that holiness, that purity, patience and love. It was what she valued most. She wanted to hear me sing “More Holiness Give Me,” for the same reason that I thought she, of all people, didn’t need it: because it embodied all that she wanted most in life.
And in thinking about Teresa, I found this truth: we are what we value. It’s a familiar lesson: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” But it became more poignant and meaningful when I recognzied it in the life of my kindred spirit.
With wit, humor and passion, Pennac takes teachers and parents from the early years of a reader’s life through adulthood, mapping out all of the pitfalls the reader may encounter on the road to reading, and arguing that in the end, if our children do not read it is because we, their adults, have robbed them of the enjoyment of it. He develops ten rights that every reader should possess, and expresses the importance of these rules chapter by chapter, with anecdotes and examples. Quentin Blake’s quirky, entertaining illustrations bring Pennac’s points home in an honest, humorous, and sometimes poignant way.
Pennat begins by describing a young child’s early love of reading. It comes through encountering narrative, shared orally, at the foot of his or her bed. He describes the scene from the point of view of the orator, the parent who tucks the child in at night to hear the story.
The ritual of reading every evening at the end of the bed when they were little — set time, set gestures — was like a prayer. A sudden truce after the battle of the day, a reunion lifted out of the ordinary. We savored the brief moment of silence before the storytelling began, then our voice, sounding like itself again, the liturgy of chapters . . . Yes, reading a story every evening fulfilled the most beautiful, least selfish, and least speculative function of prayer: that of having our sins forgiven.
I loved this passage. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to put so perfectly into words the feeling I get each night as I sit alongside one of my children and open the pages of a book. From the two year old to the nine year old, we each anticipate our moment, just the two of us together, with a quiet breath, warm bodies snuggled together, and we forget about the mess in the kitchen, the hole made in the closet door, the argument over piano practice and whose turn it was to sit in the favorite chair. Instead, we read. We transport ourselves as fellow travelers to deep sea trenches, the green-gabled rooftop on Prince Edward Island, the dark shadows of the Forbidden Forest, and Mr. MacGregor’s garden.
Some places are less enchanted than others, or may have grown so to our eyes by repeated re-tellings and readings. The house of the three bears has become all too familiar for me in our little world of narrative. But Pennac shares something profound, too, about those redundant re-readings.
“Again, again . . .” really means “We must love each other, you and I, if this one story, told and retold, is all we need.” Reading again isn’t about repeating yourself; it’s about offering fresh proof of a love that never tires. That’s why we read it again.
And though I may hide my paperback copies of those Thomas the Tank Engine stories, I love that thought: re-reading is proof of a love that never tires. No wonder our toddlers love to pick up their round-eared, sticky board books over and over again. And no wonder reading becomes a language of love.
The problem, according to Pennac, is when children begin their first attempts at reading independently. Reading is no longer an intimate act. It quickly becomes something to be assessed, a place-holder on the path to academic success or failure. As parents we turn reading at home into a chore, or even worse, a punishment. We become pendantic, and the books our children once escaped to for enjoyment turn hard and cold like prisons.
Pennac offers many ways we can escape this lethal approach to literature, but what he really endorses is returning our readers to their original love of books.
“Our children start out as good readers and will remain so if the adults around them nourish their enthusiasm instead of trying to prove themselves. If we stimulate their desire to learn before making them recite out loud; if we support them in their efforts instead of trying to catch them out; if we give up whole evenings instead of trying to save time; if we make the present come alive without threatening them with the future; if we refuse to turn a pleasure into a chore but nurture it instead.”
I thought about this passage and how it relates to my life as a parent, the manager of a busy household full of busy little people. What stood out the most was the idea of giving up whole evenings for reading. The walls in my home are lined with books. With baskets full of the revolving collection that comes home from the library each week. Some of them never get opened. We don’t have time. It is a terrible thing to say, a terrible thing to confess. Especially when I remember Sunday afternoons growing up, when my mother would call to us that it was ‘reading time’ and we would grab our books, snuggle under blankets, and read alongside each other on the couch, solitary companions in the pages of our books. I need to create that time in my home, with my kids. More than the brief time afforded by our bedtime reading ritual.
Pennac himself acknowledges that days are busy, and that it is easy for reading to get lost as the minutes fly past. But he also says, ”Time to read is always time stolen. (Like time to write, for that matter, or time to love.)”
I know that when I write, I am stealing time from the day. Time when children are still asleep, or back in bed again for naps. Time when dishes stay dirty, the phone doesn’t get answered, hair doesn’t get washed. And time to love is always stolen, too, isn’t it? We steal it from the places it demands to go so that we can stop and listen, comfort, touch. So here is my new resolution: I will become a thief of time, and steal it away for my family to read. Time that will be sanctioned and protected; time in which the rights of the reader will be upheld and obeyed.