I built up an extensive library of children’s books while my own children were young. Because of my husband’s job, we moved every three or four years to different postings in different countries. With each move my library grew larger…and heavier. Finally my children were all grown up, but I still insisted on carrying those books with us. My husband could not understand why I did it and felt, with some justification, that it was a large expense added to our moving costs.
More years passed, during which our grown-up children married and had children of their own. Then one day when my eldest son was visiting, I heard his voice in the room that was our library at the time. I peeked in and there was my six foot six, thirty-something-year-old-son sitting folded up on the floor with his four-year-old daughter on his lap, reading an old, battered and taped-together copy of Fly High, Fly Low, by Don Freeman, that had been his favourite book at that age. His daughter was as enthralled with it as he had been.
“That’s why I saved those books,” I said.
Now more grandchildren have arrived and they still hear the old favourites as well as exciting new discoveries. On a recent camping trip with my daughter and her two young children I took along The Borrowers, by Mary Norton. (Can’t put up the cover because it was on my Kindle). Emily and Nicholas were delighted with the small people’s adventures, and so was my daughter, all over again.
Books, and reading to our children, have been a tie that has united three generations of our family and I’m sure will continue to do so for generations to come.
I often hear people say, “Oh, she/he isn’t old enough yet to understand books.” Understanding doesn’t have that much to do with it. What is important is the nurturing of the love of books from the very beginning. Even with a baby so young that they literally “devour” books, chewing on their edges as you read, there is something special about the act of reading. Cuddled in your lap, tucked in beside you in bed, stretching out in front of the fire or bundled up in a sleeping bag in a tent–what more delicious and secure way to be introduced to the world of books, at any age.
One of my favourite books to read to my grandchildren, from way before they were old enough to understand it, was The Cataract of Lodore, by Robert Southey, an English poet and man of letters, appointed Poet Laureate in 1813, and illustrated by David Catrow. What a joy to read and what does it matter if the child doesn’t understand a word? Just the sound of it makes a waterfall.
The Cataract strong
Then plunges along,
Striking and raging
As if a war waging
It’s caverns and rocks among:
Rising and leaping,
Sinking and creeping,
Swelling and sweeping,
Showering and springing,
Flying and flinging,
Writhing and ringing,
Eddying and whisking,
Spouting and frisking,
Turning and twisting,
Around and around,
With endless rebound!”
Just feel the delight of those words in your mouth and drink in the wild and frolicking pictures that illustrate it. There is more–pages and pages more–and not once were any of my kids bored with it before the end, even when they were far too young to understand the half of it.
Another favourite: Zoom at Sea, by Tim-Wynne-Jones, illustrated by Ken Nutt.
The brave little cat who desperately desired to go to sea, and was beyond himself with delight when the mysterious Maria grants his wish.
“I’m at sea!” Zoom exults. And then:
“He danced around on his driftwood deck and occasionally cupped his paws and shouted very loudly back to shore.
“More waves,” or “More Sun,” or “More fish.”
I defy anyone , young or old, to read those words and look at that picture without laughing out loud and feeling as exhuberant as Zoom himself.
Sheree Fitch’s book, There Were Monkeys in my Kitchen, illustrated by Marc Mongeau, is as much fun to read as it is to look at and listen to. No matter if you’re reading it to a one-year old baby, the rhythm of it is irresistible. Don’t be surprised if your baby starts bouncing in time to the words.
Reading with your children is as much fun for you as it is for them. There are so many wonderful books out there. Go for it.
More waves! More sun! More fish!