"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Gooder and Gooder

Were you read to as a kid? And I don’t mean when you were three or four, but when you were seven, eight and nine? I have cousins who were read to by their parents–from Watership Down to Dickens–until they were at least ten, possibly older. I always thought that was cool; what an easy way to read by just listening! But it also encouraged their own reading because as far as I know these cousins are all avid readers as adults.

I thought about reading to children on the subway this morning when a mother came on the train with her son, who must have been six or seven, and started reading aloud. She was an older mom, in her Fifties, and she read from one of the Frank L Baum Oz books. The boy was distracted. I could see the pupils of his eyes quickly darting, like a gliched cursor on a computer screen, as he looked out of the window at a passing station.

I was distracted too. I didn’t want to hear the mother reading and wondered what does the subway etiquette manual say about this one? But not for long. So I put on my headphones and shuffled my i-pod. Talk Like Sex, an old pornographic and sexist record with a tight beat by Kool G Rap came on. I watched the mother read and listened to G Rap and smiled at the incogruity of it all. Then she stopped reading and talked to her son, who was pointing at the ads overheard, and they laughed together.

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1 Sliced Bread   ~  Jan 22, 2010 9:35 am

The subway's probably not the best place to read with your kid, due to the distractions, and becoming a distraction yourself -- but if that's the only time/place you have to read to your kid, I'd say that trumps whatever's in the subway etiquette manual.

I try to read with at least one of my kids every school night, but the wife never lets a day go by without reading with our boys. She's great about that (among many other things). Takes them to the library and bookstores regularly. The boys grumble sometimes like it's a chore, but we know they love their books. Reading with my kids will be one of the things I know I'll miss the most when they're older.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 22, 2010 9:51 am

The other benefit of reading aloud is that you become a better reader I think. Reading out loud is not easy and it is a real skill, a wonderful one to have.

3 Yankster   ~  Jan 22, 2010 11:49 am

I'm a librarian and read voraciously and for whatever reason despite not having kids (yet) I've managed to have an opinion on the subject of kids and reading. (I've also worked as a children's librarian, mainly covering for librarians who did it all of the time - but years ago I logged a lot of hours covering).

As a kid my parents didn't read to me much, not even as a young kid, but my father especially read his stuff all the time, and he was happy to have me around reading my stuff. Instead of reading at me, or to me, like some sort of vegetable feeding, or moral guidance, he just exposed me to the passion and utility of reading. Before he got too old to do it all the time he was a house builder, and he loved reading the trades.

He wasn't reading for ME, he was reading for HIMSELF. And I think I figured, if it's so good for him, I'm going to try it. And both of my parents sneakily and aggressively supported a very eclectic reading habit from before I can remember - I still have the books. They didn't buy and I learned not to ask for toys, but I'd get anything written I wanted. Picture books, science magazines for kids, graphic novel stuff, illustrated books with adult themes. They just let me go, age appropriate or otherwise. I remember reading Anna Freud around the age of 6 or 7 and wondering what in hell was going on.

So I've decided to treat my friends kids to my addiction to reading. It's how kids learn to smoke, why shouldn't it work for books?So I have a quite comfortable space for them to read in, then I sit nearby and read like a maniac. If my friend's kids ask for a book or whatever else, I amazon it to them right away. Then I ask them what they think generally - not a quiz. It's been working pretty well from afar, but I can't wait to test the theory on my own spuds...

4 gary from chevy chase   ~  Jan 22, 2010 11:59 am

Dear Alex - thanks for the reminder! I read through most of the Oz series with my kids, ending when my daughhter was about 10 (and well into reading herself). Her older brothers (then 11 and 14) often "dropped in" to hear the next chapter.

To this day, they all happily recall this nighttime ritual. When I was ready to donate all of the old books to the library, they insisted that we save the Oz books (along with Dr. Seuss) so that some day they can read them aloud to their kids.

And my kids are all vortacious readers.

Yankster: I agree that the best way to get kids to read is to let them read anything they want. I'm old enough to remember that some parents objected to kids "wasting their time" on comic books, and my folks giving me a quarter every week so that I could feed the comic book habit.

Truth be told, I learned how to read before kindergarden, because I wanted to read about the Yankees in the late, lamented Daily Mirror!

5 Jehosephat   ~  Jan 22, 2010 12:29 pm

I don't recall my parents reading to me once I was in grade school. I remember wanting to read so badly when I was little. Once I learned how, I started reading for myself and never looked back. Now I share books with my parents, who undoubtedly shaped my proclivities through what they read and recommended over the years.

I have to agree with the Yankster. While we read to our 4-year-old daughter every day, I hope to show her the relaxation, escape, and enjoyment I get from hunkering down with a good read, just like my parents did for me and my brother. Most of my nieces and nephews are at the ages where I can give books as gifts and they'll actually read them. The upshot to all this is another point of connection that we can carry with our daughter throughout the rest of our lives.

Apologies for the rambling, I was pleasantly surprised to find a topic near and dear to my heart (aside from the Yankees, of course) here this morning.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver