This tradition of reading together has continued every day since then. Now that she’s eighteen months old, she is very familiar with books. She recognizes them everywhere and can say “book.” They litter the floor of her room, since my father and my cousin (a children’s librarian) have become her own personal book club. She has most of the classics of toddler literature: Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle; and almost an entire library of Sandra Boynton books, including Blue Hat, Green Hat; Barnyard Dance; Belly Button Book; and But Not the Hippopotamus (thanks to our ministers for that one!). She loves a series of books by John Schindel that focus on the overstuffed schedules of various animals: Busy Bunnies, Busy Kitties, Busy Monkeys, Busy Penguins. (“What are they doing?”)
She tears through these books at rapid pace. Seriously, sometimes she won’t let us finish reading one page before turning it, or else she won’t finish a book before putting it down and grabbing a new one. I think this is normal given her short attention span, but she consistently loves to grab books. She carries them around the room; she hands them to us; she plops down in our lap and demands we read it to her. And now, a new development: she reads them back to us. Of course, we have no idea what she is saying and know that she doesn’t know how to read yet. But the practice of looking at the page, pointing out the various pictures of interest, and talking about them – well, I’ve written before about her knack for mimicry. If you have any doubts about how infinitely cute it is to listen to her expound and exegete a text she’s just been read, then I refer you to the attached video.
We live in a post-literate world. This technological age is changing the ways our brains work. Television, smart phones, the internets: all of these things require different neural pathways in our brains, and we’re changing almost as quickly as the technology. I mean, for instance, you are currently reading a blog. So you are actually reading (and not texting or web-surfing), but you are reading a blog. Do you even know where the word “blog” comes from? I guarantee you didn’t a decade ago. It’s a new medium; even the written word is different than it used to be. I don’t need to submit my posts to an editor before someone publishes my words. My entire blog could be complete and utter crap; but the internet has freed me to put this stuff out there.
We are not a literate culture like we used to be. I don’t mean that we’re stupid, just that our intelligence is taking a new form. There are ways that my little girl’s brain will be different from mine just because she’s going to grow up in this era and not her daddy’s era. That’s been true of the last few generations. But there is still something magical and imaginative and inspiring about holding a book in ones hands and soaking up it’s pages, paper and words (or board and pictures) and all. I think that being a reader has made me the intelligent, creative and adaptive person that I am. Honestly, if it weren’t for what I learned as a young person through the endeavors of reading, I might actually have been less able to adapt to the new technologies that have arisen in the past twenty years.
So we will continue to read to our little girl on a daily basis. Perhaps one day she will not love it as much as she does now, but hopefully by then it will be too ingrained in her life for her to do without. I cannot imagine a life without reading, but I know people who not only imagine it, but live it: no newspapers, no blogs, no magazines. That’s not going to be our household, and that’s not going to be my child.
Our house is full of books. Our little girl has found them all to be interesting. I’ve lost count of how many times she’s pulled Richard Wright’s Native Son off of our shelf. It’s the cover art that attracts her, I know, but she knows how to find books in our house and to pull them off the shelf and to open them, to look for whatever is inside for her. It will be a while before I let her read Native Son (or Lord of the Flies, another one she regularly pulls), but I am thrilled that she already knows there is something in these books for her to find. The world is so vast, and books are the place I have discovered the world, discovered myself, discovered God. I would not raise my child without food or water, without physical touch and love. And I won’t raise her without books, either.