the beginning of reading

We have read Pete’s a Pizza at least twenty times this week.  I have read it quickly, slowly, with voices, without voices.

I’ve read to Isaiah from his birth.  I wanted him to love books more than I had, and, yeah… I love them quite a lot.  In the beginning, I would read my own books aloud, letting him hear the cadence of sentences, the intricacies of the English language.  And then I started reading him his own short picture books because I thought it was the right thing to do.  Once he got out of the habit of gnawing off the corners of all his board books, he loved the colorful pictures.  I couldn’t wait for him to sit still for a whole story.  We read a few books every day, and I patted myself on the back for a job well done.

But then I ran across one family’s homeschooling guideposts, one of which was: “2 hours a day of Reading — especially before they are five.”  That did say before they are five?  Well, Isaiah is not five yet, but… well… when do you start that two-hours-a-day thing?  At birth?  If so, then wow, somebody cared about reading even more than I did!

Isaiah is two.  I can’t imagine how much reading there will be when he is three, four, five.  There are times when I need to take breaks from reading to him, and oh!, the fits my voracious little reader has thrown!  I hate to stop; every moment of those stories, with Isaiah sprawled on top of me or perched on a pillow by my side, is pure joy.  We never aimed for two hours (though I did aim for one), but all of a sudden, I find Isaiah and I spending more time, huddled together on the couch, absorbed in book after book after book.  What time used to be a forced twenty minutes has become joyful hours upon hours.

What made the difference?  Not long ago, I read a book called Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, and I was intrigued by Hunt’s claim that the quality of books determine how much our children love to read.  She has a wonderful list of books for each age group, and I’ve been snatching up the library’s copies of many of her suggestions.  A few are too dull for him, or too advanced; some are too subtle in their beauty.  But between the covers of most of these children’s stories, I am learning the value of what Hunt calls “living books.”  Books alive with characters, quality illustrations, compelling words and sentences, good stories.

Noticing this difference has made me a bit of a snob about books, I’ll admit.  I would like to burn our copies of Dinosaur Lovables: Stegosaurus and Pepper the Puppy (and his pals Poppy the Pig and Poopy — or what’s-his-freaking-name — the Pony).  Oh, I’m sorry.  Who wrote those books?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  It’s not even worth putting on the cover.  And it’s not worth my time, or Isaiah’s time.  I’ve decided that if you want to make your kid hate reading, you don’t not read to them.  Instead, you read them dreadful books like Dinosaur Lovables (shudder).

And here, I would like to dispel the claim that anyone can write a children’s book, or particularly, if I, Carrie, want to get started as an author, I should try a children’s book first.  I do not claim to have the brilliance necessary to write a book worthy to be read by children.  A good children’s book is a work of art, and it will play like the Pied Piper to your child’s imagination, luring him into a love affair with reading that will be all but impossible to ever abandon.

*          *          *

A few recommendations from Isaiah:

Pete’s a Pizza, by William Steig

The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper (original illustrations recommended)

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson

Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown

A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog, by Mercer Mayer

    • manhattandoula
    • November 16th, 2008

    I am so with you!! My kids have occasionally liked (sorry, I’m going to say it) dumb books. I can’t stand reading them. I don’t like book series based on TV shows, but they do sometimes. The Curious George TV shows are idiotic skeletons of the original Curious George books, for example.
    We would check out 20 different books every week at the library, if I could only carry them out to the car and keep my kids from getting hit in the parking lot. Here are some of our current favorites (ones that we *all* like — so they must have some merit):
    _The Quiltmaker’s Gift_, by Jeff Brumbeau (gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous, in every way)
    _George and Martha_, by James Marshall (I just figured out there’s a TV series based on it! NOOOOOOOO! The original books are wonderful)
    the Frances books, by Russell Hoban
    (just a few)

    My kids are really getting into nonfiction lately, too, like Dorling Kindersley books on dinosaurs and insects. They’re older than Isaiah, but he’ll get there soon. And we love the original _Little Engine That Could_, too. The classics are classics for a reason. 🙂

    • Rachel
    • November 16th, 2008

    Books…I can’t resist. Along with your great list, we also enjoy Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings.

    • clbeyer
    • November 16th, 2008

    Oh, Rachel (H.), we have _Blueberries for Sal_ out from the library right now! The first time I read it, it was downright frightening (in a wonderfully thrilling sort of way). Good thing Sal’s mom and Little Bear’s mom were “old enough to be shy of” each other!

    We haven’t read _Make Way for Ducklings_ yet. Maybe next library trip.

    • Dan
    • November 17th, 2008

    You made me curious about “Dinosaur Lovables”, so I entered that phrase in to Google. I was amused to find that your blog is the top hit and is quoted as:

    I would like to burn our copies of Dinosaur Lovables: Stegosaurus and Pepper the … Instead, you read them dreadful books like Dinosaur Lovables (shudder). … – Similar pages – Note this

    And that amused me greatly!

    • clbeyer
    • November 17th, 2008

    Well, I guess I’m glad to see that the only publicity they’ve gotten is bad publicity!

    • maar
    • November 17th, 2008

    manhattan doula,

    Use a heavy cloth bag!! We check out 20 books every time we go to the library and just pile them in the bag.

    We’re probably kinda mean: when our kids manage to sneak a dumb book in the stack, we read it, but the next time the book is up for reading, we say, “This is a dumb book. I’d rather read ____.” The kids get the right idea after a while.

    • precisionink
    • November 19th, 2008

    Thank you for the book suggestions. Your comments resonated with me completely. So many amazing books for kids, so many awful books, and I am often overwhelmed at the library, and end up taking out my favorites again and again. So we are always looking for new ideas.

    I have trouble finding books for Benny (10 y.o.). A lot of the series books are formulaic, and frankly very dull, but he doesn’t seem to mind (and neither did I when I read all of the Bobbsey Twins, and later Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys (and Trixie Belden, and I’m ashamed to go on)–so is that OK?). I welcome suggestions from anyone who has preteen readers.

    Also, so so true about the simple beauty of worthy children’s books. Writing kids’ lit seems to be regarded as a jumping-off point for “bigger things,” yet what is worse than the pandering foolishness of a badly written children’s book? Your post on “Dinosaur Lovables” is the first I’ve heard of them, but the review is hilarious. Also liked the “idiotic skeleton” review of Curious George. Writers on those shows must hate children, as well as their parents. My goal is to watch TV with my children, but most of the so-called kids shows are unbearable viewing, although I am fond of Caillou and his endlessly tolerant and exemplary parents.

    • precisionink
    • November 19th, 2008

    One more thing, on reading literature to babies: Benny liked to be held, listening to my voice, more than anything else (probably the same thing most babies like). So he got to listen to Middlemarch, beginning from when he was a few days old. He was happy, I was happy. It’s a great memory. (Aunt Alma did not think it was a good idea, by the way, so I had qualms about persisting, against her judgment.)

    Also, best of luck with the relaction (didn’t Shelley do that? although that was probably more like “neolaction”). That’s quite an endeavor, but will give you the great combo of “reading and feeding.”

  1. precisionink:
    Who is Shelley? I don’t have a cousin named Shelley, do I? 🙂

    I’m trying to wrack my brain for books I loved when I was ten. Many pre-teen books I didn’t pick up until college. Most of my favorites are quite popular, but I’ll share some that come to mind anyway: _The Giver_ and _Number the Stars_ (Lois Lowry), _Out of the Dust_ (Karen Hesse), _A Wrinkle in Time_ (Madeleine L’Engle), _Where the Red Fern Grows_ and _Summer of the Monkeys_ (Wilson Rawls), _The Phantom Tollbooth_ (Norton Juster), and E.B. White’s books. And I’d love to read the original _Peter Pan_ (James Barrie).

    Oh, I love the good books written for young adults! It seems like so many are controversial, which makes them all the more fun, right?

    • Rachel
    • November 19th, 2008

    Lloyd Alexander has several great books that appeal to preteen boys in particular, such as his Prydain Chronicles. Another good resource I’ve found for books, especially for older children, is Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature by Elizabeth Wilson.

  2. If R doesn’t want my first grade OFE materials ( ) and you do, I can send them along with her when we’re done with them to give to you. At any rate, they’re off for another family in just over a semester. 🙂 They have a lot of really awesome living books through the curriculum.

  3. what a great post… I totally agree with what you’ve written. I love reading GOOD books to my boys. I, too, have “honey for a child’s heart” and have enjoyed all the recommendations you gave just as much as my boys. That’s what I love about good children’s books…. I love reading them just as much as my boys love listening to them! : ) We have a lot of fun together with books.

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