A current exhibit at the NY Public Library, The ABS of It: Why Children’s Books Matter is a family reunion of sorts as it gathers together creatures and characters from the memories of childhood and parenthood. The exhibit brings new meaning to W.H. Auden’s words: “There are no good books only for children.”
Childhood is about Be-Coming and teaching children to read deeply gives them the ability to better understand themselves, find their place in the world, and reach their full potential. Stories are how children try the world on for size, see who they are at a moment in time and see who they might become.
The relationship between parent and child is part of the reading experience. Parents who read and talk with their children feel more connected to their children and more satisfied in their role as a parent. In turn, the reading experience for the child gives a clear message they are loved and understood. Reading to children is a gift that lasts a lifetime. These are the books and characters that will help shape them. The most important outcome is not how many books children read, but how many conversations they have about them. In our fast-moving, media-saturated world, reading with children and talking with them about what matters is more important than ever before.
The benefits of reading with children supports my Merry-Go-Round philosophy of parenting. Visualize your very young child sitting on a merry-go-round. What makes the ride exciting and worthwhile has less to do with the movement of the merry-go-round, and more to do with the child’s eager anticipation of seeing you waving and cheering them on as they pass. If no one is there to wave, the child quickly loses interest in the ride or they become worried. They feel unseen.
So much of parenting is about the work of noticing; noticing a child’s feelings, dreams, hopes and fears. Children feel loved when they feel known and understood. Remember in the story, The Velveteen Rabbit, when the old hobby-horse, older and wiser than any toy in the nursery, tells the rabbit the way he can become real, is through the love of a child who plays with him? In the same vein, a child becomes real through a parent’s love. Reading to children is one of the most important activities we can do to show them they are loved. This is how children thrive and become real persons in their own right.
I often think parents, and maybe mothers in particular, create children from scratch. Yes, children come into the world as their own being but they need a parent’s love and attention to build a strong sense of self. Parental love give children the foundation they need “to put on their roller skates”, go out into the world, and be their best self. A passage from a book I just read comes to mind on the heels of this thought. A Dad is speaking with his teenage daughter who asks him “Why are we here on this planet, what is our purpose?” The Dad responds that he hasn’t yet figured out his complete answer, but he knows for sure that “One of the reasons we’re here for is to make certain that those whom we love fall asleep each night assured of that love. Reading to children is one of the ways we assure children thrive and know they are loved.