Winter makes me think about books. Well, it makes me think more about books than, maybe, other times of the year. But really, I think about books and reading all the time. I know why, though. It goes way back for me, when I was a child and I remember it all.
Both of my parents had a distinctly reverent relationship with books and reading, and I’m pretty sure that got passed on to me. We three children grew up surrounded by books. Shelves everywhere and fresh books any time we thought there was a reason. And it didn’t have to be a very good reason, Any excuse to buy a new book, or go to the library, was good enough.
We moved a few times while I was growing up and the very first thing my book loving, engineer dad did in each new home was build the bookshelves. It was like a ritual. No, it was a ritual and we all stayed out of the way and watched in awe. Where will he put them? What will they look like this time? How long will it take? An entire wall, usually in the den, floor to ceiling, got chosen for the honor of serving as the book wall.
He built intensely, after work and on the weekends until it was finished. Like breaking the bottle of champagne over the ship’s bow just before its maiden voyage, Dad built those bookshelves and launched our new home. Then, just like that, he was off to the other things dads do in a new house, like, heckle painters over brushstrokes on the trim, or micromanage the contractor who wasn’t on schedule.
Books on New Bookshelves
Then Mom took over. She rounded her children up to unpack the book boxes and fill the shelves. The four of us did it all and we did it together. Mom put the high shelf books up on the high shelves. We kids matched up the neighbor books, the ones that always stood together on the shelves. Those new shelves were so dust free! So, we honorably wiped down every book before we placed it, spine to the edge, in its new spot. Oh it looked good! Nothing quite matches a freshly arranged, clean, new bookshelf. And now, finally, it was time for reading.
We did a lot of pure pleasure reading (PPR) in our home, which never included anything we read for school. The read-yourself-to-sleep books were always favorites. We picked these PPR books out ourselves, mostly at the library, unless we had just had a birthday or Christmas, and kept them next to the bed. Mine was usually a small tower, as I recall, because you had to have your cue in order. You never knew exactly when you would close one cover and need to open the next one.
And then there were the PPR books Mom read to us. She was a classicist and believed unbudgingly that children must hear the classics read aloud to them, from the earliest age possible. That was the way it was done. Right? So she picked the books. No, we didn’t get a vote. Nor did we complain! Complaining was never reinforced in our house and, besides, what would have been the point? Mom was the master. She knew the name of every book in the world and the books she picked always hit the mark.
Magic Reading Mommy
So just about every night, at least through Junior High School, she would bunch us up on the couch and….. open the book. Now, these were real books, thick books with hard cloth finished covers, and dust jackets. They were just stuffed with old fashioned words and had very few pictures. It didn’t matter about the pictures because we illustrated those stories on our own, in our minds. Mom didn’t read with any drama. She just read. This was not her show and she knew it. It was the book’s show and how presumptuous it would have been for her to spin it from her perspective. That was for us to do.
The prized seats were on either side of her and you can bet we never forgot whose turn it was. I was mesmerized when I could lean on Mom’s arm and watch the words go by, and then watch her hand levitate up to the corner and float the page over without her ever losing her rhythm. For a long time I was pretty sure she had powers. After all, she must have been able to see right through the page because she was reading the next words before we ever saw them. She was amazing! Magic reading Mommy!
We Were Hooked
Yes, the riveting stories had me hooked, had all three of us hooked. But it was Mom who made it work. When she read, time stopped. We were some place else and she was right there with us, immersed in her own reading, riding on the sound of her voice just like we were. She knew it was good for her to read to her children. She knew it made us better readers and taught us to love the words and the books.
Mom knew all of it. But, I am sure now that this was not why she did it. She did it because she just loved everything about it and wanted her little children to love it, too. And isn’t that really what we want to give our own children? Isn’t that what they need from us when we read? And don’t we all just want to be that magic reading person for them to remember?
What are your favorite books you have read to your children? What do you plan to read next to them? I would love to hear about them and add your titles to a booklist page.