Reading Together

One of my very good friends had her first baby last week, and when I think about my hopes for her motherhood, and for her daughter’s childhood, my greatest hope is that they will spend many hours reading together.

My mother read to me when I was a kid.  As far back as I can remember, I would crawl into her bed before bedtime and she would read to me, often for long stretches, her fingers curling through my hair, the soothing sound of her voice lulling me into a comfortable, bookish euphoria.  This went on for a really long time, well into high school, which I think is a lot older than most kids are when their mothers stop reading to them.  But I think that it continued out of a longing on both of our parts to hold on to that time when we could snuggle up together and hear a story.

She read a lot of books that I still love to this day.  We read books like Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Pushcart Wars, which she had loved as a child, as well as books that interested me like James & the Giant Peach.  I read different kinds of books to myself than I read with my mother, and I read them a lot faster, but the experience of reading them is, for the most part, lost to me.  There was nothing special or memorable to me about spending a lazy afternoon on the couch flipping through pages until there are no more left.  But reading with my mother?  That was special.  There was a communal feeling to it, a quality of sharing that I didn’t get from reading alone.  The Pushcart Wars is a book that I share, forever, with my mother, and the reading of it is a treasured memory.

I am twelve years older than my little sister, and when she was five or six, we started having sleepovers in my apartment (also called my parents’ basement).  Sleepovers usually consisted of going to a movie, eating junk food, engaging in some sort of arts and crafts project, and then, right before the little munchkin nodded off, reading together.  I picked out several books to read to her, either books that I loved when I was a kid, or books that, when I saw them in the bookstore, made me wish I was still a kid.  Luckily, I had a kid to read them to.

We read quite a few books together, but I think if you were to ask my sister which one made the biggest impression, she would name the same book as I would: Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  Talk about a creepy book!  It was a bonding experience, reading that book with my baby sister snuggled close with her head on my shoulder, fighting to stay awake.

My grandmother, too, was big on reading to us grandchildren.  Unfortunately for all of us, my family lived in Georgia, 900 miles away from her Wisconsin home.  But did that stop my Nettie?  No way!  She just recorded books on tape and sent them to us.  Mostly she recorded shorter books, for the obvious reason that they take up less tape.  Sometimes she even wrote stories for us with characters she made up and recorded those.  And on at least one occasion, she recorded a longer book (which must have taken forever), Lynn Reid Banks’s The Indian in the Cupboard, which we listened to on the way up to visit her one year.  And, what a bonus, when we miss her even now, we have those tapes with her voice on them.

Being read to, and reading to my sister, did a lot to shape the person I am today.  It reinforced my love for books, helped form strong family bonds, and created enduring memories.  What kinds of books did your parents read to you?  What do you read to your kids (or what would you read to them if you had them)?