People tend to generalize about boys and reading (and mostly about boys not reading). I have always loved books and began to read board books to my first son while he was nursing. As he grew older, and proved to be extraordinarily active, a book became the one thing that would cause him to come to a stop. My three sons are very different from each other. One loves athletics, and another music and singing. But they always slowed for a book. We not only read at bedtime, but at any time when we needed a pause. Nap-time, of course. But rainy, plodding days, too. Most often, just to sit. Even in the bath-tub.
Reading is a time to explore the world
I never thought I’d find myself reading about the natural animal world; what alligators do with their prey is not particularly calming. But this was my middle-son’s chosen bedtime stories for a very long time. (At least, it felt like a long time.) Did you know that alligators will pin their prey under heavy logs or stones for several days to soften their flesh? I did not need to know that just before falling asleep. But my belief about how reading stretches us, takes us beyond comfort zone, was taken to task on this. At one point my oldest son had memorized every bird in a book about the feathered characters in our world. These are not books I would have chosen, but I learned all sorts.
Reading is a time to discover language
For this we read poetry, rhyming and free verse, classic and new. I have a terrible sense of rhythm, and my hope was that reading poetry would serve to nurture rhythm in my boys. (Athletics and music — they have it. I’m certain it’s all about the poetry.) Sometimes we read the poetic prose of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales it mid-summer to “cool off.” Try it — it works!
It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.
We can do no better than that!
Reading is a distraction from not feeling well
When my boys dealt with being sick, we spent hours reading. Days off from school, we read entire novels, even as they grew older. (When we weren’t reading together, when I was actually doing my work, they would listen to audio books.)
Reading is a way to discover their thinking
I am not male. I grew up with three brothers, and I do not have a sister or daughter. I have spent my life surrounded by males. But still, I am not. I was curious about how my boys saw the world; often books became a window to their thoughts.
When my sons were small, we would go to the library and I would march around and pick out particular books by particular authors. One day, my sons approached me with armloads of books they’d found on their own. When we took them home to read, I was humbled. I also realized something about judging a book by its cover… And the value in that. Many library books we later purchased at library sales, took them home, bound them with tape, and treasured. Library rescues.
Reading together I discovered books I’d missed
As a child, my mother read me Heidi and Anne of Green Gables. But as the mother of sons, I’ve read most of Roald Dahl’s books (Dahl’s books must be read aloud for the language rhythm and character voices), and Captain Underpants, with its wonderful meta-fiction and flagrant questioning of authority. As they were learning to read, we shared the Henry and Mudge books, by Cynthia Rylant. Of course, all books can be read by anyone. But everyone has gaps in their reading. And one of my gaps was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, published in 1883, a story of human messiness, through a maturing boy’s eyes. It is noteworthy that he wrote the story with his beloved step-son in mind; it is one of the most readable books I’ve ever read, with language and story that flows even now. From the closing lines:
The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them; and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: ‘Pieces of eight! pieces of eight!’
In my years of being a mother of sons, of feeling at times as if I’ve been given a passport to a strange country, with no phrase book to navigate, Treasure Island is just that. Treasure. Recently, my oldest son and I were in a bookstore, and he purchased a gilt-edged leather-bound copy to take to his own home. Job done, Momma!
William Steig, the New Yorker cartoonist who became a children’s writer and illustrator in his 60s, won the Caldecott award, and in his acceptance speech he said that, “Wonder is respect for Life.”
Books create Wonder. And that alone is enough reason to share books with children.
Previously published on medium
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