**For those of you who don’t know, Baby Crowell is supposed to arrive in 5 days! Consequently, I’m doing the majority of the blogging. I’m going to try and give you Sarah’s insights and perspective, but sometimes (like in this blog) it’s difficult to work in.**
As we all know, we should encourage kids to read- it’s good for their imagination, it’s better than tv, it’ll help them in school, etc. While I think all these reasons are valid, they aren’t what I love most about reading: it brings me closer to the people I love.
I came to this realization in a round-about way. I recently moved in with my long-time (and amazing) boyfriend and almost daily I discover a way in which we’re polar opposites. The most recent example is his reluctance to read the book we’re writing. “I didn’t read as a child!” he kept insisting. As he enjoys reading now, I didn’t believe him. He then clarified that he didn’t read middle grade books. Despite this explanation, I peevishly accused him of never reading at all. He protested that he loved “The Poky Puppy,” and I (amusingly?) snapped at him, “It’s The Poky Little Puppy!” When thinking about this silly exchange and why his lack of childhood reading bothered me, I realized that for me, reading is not just about the act of reading or loving reading. Reading has helped me get to know and appreciate the people in my life. This is what reading has helped me learn about my family thus far:
My brother’s overprotective nature is maddening but loving. Drew, the younger of my 2 older brothers, is surprisingly the more overprotective one, and it can be annoying. However, my earliest reading memory is Drew reading to me a Richard Scarry book in a futile attempt to keep me from nagging my mother who was trying to pack. I love this memory, and (if I’m being rational) it helps me understand why he worries about me.
A huge part of what makes my family great is that we love laughing at things together. In 1st grade, I read Alice in Wonderland and first ran across the word, “ferret.” The white rabbit worries: “She’ll get me executed, as sure as ferrets are ferrets!” When my mom came to tuck me in that night, I asked her what a ferret was and when she told me, I got hysterical. And then of course my mother got hysterical because who wouldn’t love that their 5 year old daughter is uncontrollably laughing at the absurd exclamation, “as sure as ferrets are ferrets!”?
My family is beautifully critical. To most, this probably sounds odd because often criticism is mistaken for negativity. But, I love that my family enjoys thinking deeply about everything (although our debates can be exhausting). My Dad is probably the most critical of all. One of my earliest memories of this family trait came when I was reading a book I had borrowed from a friend, Marisa. My mother was drying my hair while I intently read my book. My father asked me what I was reading, and I told him it was a book about a girl who dressed up like a boy and became a knight (I was probably about 8 yrs old). I don’t remember his exact words, but he essentially said it wasn’t good literature (my Dad is an English professor, by the way)- my response: “I know, but it’s fun.” I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my father for always wanting me to read the best literature but not caring when I didn’t….and to thank Marisa who introduced me to all sorts of “fun” books that I never would have discovered otherwise.
Sometimes it’s just about having things in common with people you care about. No one feels more strongly about this than my brother, Jeremy. It didn’t surprise me when he told me this summer he had become irrationally invested in me both finishing and liking Lonesome Dove after I told him I was having problems getting into it. I don’t know if Alli (his wife) will ever convince him that she likes Nero Wolfe after she didn’t absolutely love the 1st one she read.
Now, to bring this full circle. But what about kids who don’t come from book crazy families? Can reading similarly impact their understanding of the people they care about? I think so. For about 3.5 years, I mentored a child while working on an Indian reservation. I met him when he was in 6th grade, and he hated reading. I repeatedly bribed him to read but didn’t have much success. As he got older, he started getting in trouble and then I lost my job and had to move. Things got worse for him, and he’s now serving time in a juvenile detention facility. I still write him though, and he writes me. With nothing else to do, he has turned to reading. Every letter he sends talks about how much he is reading. Part of this is just him updating me on his life. But, he’s also telling me because he knows it’ll make me happy. He doesn’t have to make that gesture, but I think he does because on some level he understands that all my nagging about homework and reading was about what I wanted for him. Reading was my tangible, easy way to have expectations for him, which, especially for kids who are troubled, is the best compliment you can give them.
So everyone, read, read, read and share it with the people you love. I think you’ll be surprised at all the ways it can bring good things into your life.