"Books Fall Open - You Fall In"
This is the theme at the St. Louis Public Library and we've adopted the theme at our private family library - located just 'kitty-corner' from the sitting room.
Books. Who'da thunk I'd be such a fan? As a child, I never really took much interest. Reading was a chore in school. However, there were books I remember as far back as pre-school. I remember a book of fables and fairy tales. The gingerbread boy was one of the first stories I remember reading and how I wished he hadn't jumped on the back of that sly fox to get across the river! Poor ginger-boy! What was I learning? Not to be cocky? Not to trust strangers? Not to put yourself in situations you can't get yourself out of? Maybe I just loved the illustrations. The point is one of my earliest memories was of a book.
I do remember getting Black Beauty as a gift from my 4th grade teacher. I remember reading before bed, fighting to get the last rays of sunset so I could finish one more chapter.
Black Beauty came at a perfect time in my life and corrected me in an important -life changing way. It taught me how to be compassionate toward all animals - a very valuable lesson for every child. You see, I was a bit of a tomboy and curious about things in nature. Unfortunately, I had a mean streak mixed with ignorance. I was not gentle with little animals - I liked to play and play rough.
I was never more proud of myself as when I finished reading Black Beauty. I think I sensed it was more than a story of a horse but a life lesson in humanity and compassion. Whatever the reason, at the age of 9, my soul had expanded because of it. The book tamed me and I am so grateful for it.
In High school I fell in love with poetry - Shakespeare sonnets, Poe, Frost. That love has never really waned. I am not a great connoisseur of poetry - more of a taste-tester. I was attracted most to the emotion and passion in each stanza. I had lots of that in my teens and poetry became a huge outlet for me.
The real love affair with literature started in my late 20's early 30's when I was introduced to the Bronte sisters, Austin, and Dickens. Soon I discovered Potok, Stowe and Porter now I have developed eternal friendships with Celia Thaxter and Corrie ten Boom.
However, I am finding my 'inner child' is craving literature too. I have discovered Burgess, Clara D. Pierson, Enid Blyton and of course Kipling (Just so stories delight me to no end! I've never laughed so hard than to 'How the First Letter was Written').
Let me talk of my new love affairs in children's books especially for core phase children. I can't keep from sharing Tasha Tudor - especially for little girls. Beatrix Potter. Jane Pilgrim's Blackberry Farm series, Molly Brett, Jean Bilder, Else Homelund Minarik's Little Bear series, and Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad series. Sigh, it might be because I have a toddler teetering about the library. Let these be her earliest memories!
It took time for this love affair to bloom and bear fruit. That is why I do not worry that my eldest son is a bit shy of the whole literary experience. I know that if I surround him with the best books to fall into he'll eventually trip up and take the plunge.
What I hear most from friends is their concern that their children aren't reading. I am no expert in the field and can only speak from my own experiences (every child and home is different). The best inspiration I have found is to read to my children, read myself, surround them with great books, play audio books and never never never push the issue.
I believe beyond a doubt- beyond a doubt - that if we take the chore out of reading, books literally 'fall open and children fall in'. For some children it is an instant discovery for others it takes time to build trust that reading isn't so much a chore but an adventure.
I have seen that if a parent treasures a book - even jealously sometimes - a child is tempted out from behind indifference.
I have learned never to push finishing a book. This was really hard when I first started homeschooling. If we started a story we had to finish it. What I discovered was that often killed enthusiasm. Eyes rolled, ants crawled into pants and the thrill deflated into indifference.
I had to rethink what I was doing. I felt we had to finish the book because I wanted to teach my children how to endure to the end. I have come to believe I should never use reading as a means to teach this lesson. I realized I'd have to find a different way to teach 'stick-to-it-ness'.
Love for reading is far too valuable to sacrifice to other life lessons. I believe it must be preserved but that's just me. When a child comes to love literature, finishing the book (if the book is worthy of getting you to the last page) becomes the ultimate reward for endurance.
I'm sorry this post is so long. I may have written these thoughts before. They come to my mind again and again. I just cleaned out of the library those books we've read and haven't fallen in love with. I do love books but I can't keep them all. I need to keep only those we'll return to. Perhaps that is what has got me all fired up.