Some of parenting’s best moments come in reading books to your children. After the chaos of eating and bathtime and dressing have subsided, the chance to sit quietly with your kids and read a book represents an enchanted, beatific time in both of your lives. Savor them, because they pass all too rapidly.
At one level, it makes little difference what book you’ve adopted – the sharing and bonding itself is the key to these experiences. In another sense, however, the choice of reading is critical, because these volumes hold the potential not only to entertain, but to teach – both parent and child – something of life.
I mean here not those books that boast a thinly-veiled pedagogical subtext, trying to work into their lines an injunction to study more math or avoid littering. I mean instead something deeper, the kind of meaning that adults themselves seek in their own reading. As children grow older, their exposure to such texts can pay ever greater dividends, for you and them.
My daughters are currently partial to the contemporary kids’ lit greats, the not-bad books like Pinkalicious, Fancy Nancy, and Sheltie. And our 22-month old son likes the touch-and-feel books and others with big pictures. Not every age is right for the deep textual truths.
But over time, consider introducing not just the new stuff, but also a few of the classics. Dr. Seuss remains as popular as ever, and the Grinch, Horton, and the Cat in the Hat are characters that will endure for generations to come. I personally believe that every kid should get to know and love Dr. Seuss’ books; to do otherwise seems not only wrong but vaguely un-American.
I’ve tried with little success to pull into our reading life some of the true greats like The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the Daoist classic Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, and of course D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. The kids haven’t jumped at the chance, and I console myself with the thought that they just aren’t old enough to appreciate these fine works. In other words, it’s their age that’s the problem, not me.
Finally, one set of books that has seized the imagination of successive generations – and that of our family – is Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. If you haven’t looked at them lately, do it – they are filled with poems that range from the really dumb to the gross-out to the sublime, and sometimes all at once. I’m particularly partial to one of his lines, which seems ripe not only for closing a poem, but perhaps, at bedtime with your children, closing a long day.
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” – Shel Silverstein
YOUR TURN: What books are you reading to your kids these days?