Sometimes, while all four children are seated at the table, shoveling cheerios down their o-shaped mouths, I have tried to limit breakfast battles by reading a book.
It does not seem to matter what kind of book I read in the early hour; they all listen and concentrate on the tale at hand. With my children ranging from teen, tween and post-tot, it fascinates me that each child is able to enjoy the story, no matter what their reading level is. This has led me to think about the power of picture books and early reading comprehension.
Recently, I read an article about a teenage boy who was never taught how to read a book until he was 13. He knew how to read the words, however, nothing made sense to him. He was never taught how to really READ and interpret the printed words into imagery. The idea of never being able to enjoy a book saddened me, for I have always believed in the adage, “books are our friends,” and this child was missing out on so many literary “friendships,” so to speak. He was never able to enjoy a story, because when he was young and being read to, it was never explained to him how to listen carefully to the words and how to create images in his mind.
His story led me to think about the first time that I learned to read…beyond just the words. We were living in Iowa, near the Iowa River which flowed into the famous Mississippi River featured in so many of Samuel Clements’ stories. So, it was apropos that my father chose to read me a couple of pages from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I will never forget my father telling the story using all sorts of funny voices, and then pausing in the middle to ask me if I could envision what was happening in the story: Tom, white washing the picket fence and Tom, engaging the attention of Becky Thatcher with all sorts of silly stunts, and off course Tom and Huck rafting down the river. I was probably too young to have read these classics on my own; however, having the story read to me, I could easily enjoy listening to the tale of Tom and his series of misadventures.
I was fortunate that my father was creative in his approach to teaching the early process of reading. I believe that you are never too young to step into a good story, especially when a story is told using the power of pictures. And, when a story is told with expression, a young reader is given an extra special gift of learning how to see a story, painting pictures in one’s mind. I’ve tried to pass this gift on to my own kids by keeping our library book bag filled with a variety of books, not necessarily based on age, but interest. My kids still respond to stories enhanced with vivid illustrations and of course books with lively characters that help inspire young readers.
At least once a week my 3-year-old son and I march to the public library to choose an array of stories. We usually lean towards large, illustrated picture stories. We have managed to find every pirate book possible. He tends to pull random books off the shelves and stuff them into our book bag and I try to surreptitiously slip them back into their Dewey Decimal home. Being our fourth child, third male, I truly believe that I have read almost every “boyish” preschool book in our library: dinosaurs, superheroes, trains, fire trucks, pirates, etc. As an avid reading mom, I had preschool book burnout.
One afternoon, grandmom accompanied us to the library and she found a wonderful book in the children’s section by an artist author named Red Grooms. I was thrilled that she had found a book that did not have a dinosaur, train, truck, or pirate on the cover. Instead, this book was written by an American born artist, Red Grooms, who is known for his large, environmental sculpture with a satirical view of life. When Grooms applies his artistic talents to his children’s book entitled, Rembrandt Takes a Walk, not only does Rembrandt emerge from the past, but the reader finds himself strolling right along, learning all about famous art pieces through the artistic author’s painterly pictures. The bright, bold paintings by Red Grooms captured our adult attention, and my 3-year-old could even follow along and also enjoy the creative tale.
Back at the breakfast table, my second elementary school aged son, who has started to give us a bit of a hard time with independent reading, has noticed that his younger siblings have been looking at the picture books. He picks up one of the books and starts reading to his younger siblings. Not only am I thrilled that he decided, on his own, to read a story to the younger kids, but it’s a book that my eyes are tired of reading, another boyish type book that I have read year after year. Now they can enjoy the story with a fresher, younger, more animated voice, carrying on the treasured tradition of showing and sharing pictures on pages and seeing the images come alive with a little imagination.
To get free children’s books every month for kids aged 6-months to 8 years old, check out PJ Library. Families in the NY Metro area can sign up through Kveller here. Other families can search for their local PJ community here.