We started reading to my son when he was six weeks old. It sounds a little strange, I know, but I’d read about the benefits of reading to a baby and so I insisted that we do it. We started with simple board books that contained mostly colorful pictures of oversized objects—shoes, balls, animals—and slowly progressed to books with simple story lines. Our reading time quickly became a treasured part of my son’s daily schedule. After we successfully got his sisters off to school each morning, the two of us would cozy into a spot on the rocking chair in his room. He’d choose a pile of books from our home library and stack them as neatly as his chubby little toddler hands would allow, by the chair. Eventually his attention span grew and we were able to complete lengthy series. I think that he was under five years old when we completed all seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.
We certainly didn’t stop there.
Some of the books we read together wouldn’t surprise you. We read books that boys love—tales of pirates and cowboys, stories about Indian figurines that magically sprung to life upon being placed in a special cupboard. He always favored fantasy and adventure. Being a lover of books myself, I didn’t want to stop with those expected choices. I wanted him to get lost in stories that would grow his horizons. To that end, we started a series most well-known for appealing to young girls: The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Having never read that particular series as a child, I didn’t know quite what to expect. I feared he might not appreciate or enjoy the more feminine tones of the stories. He surprised me. The books did, too. Hardly feminine, The Little House books are accounts of brave pioneers. They overflow with adventurous characters, rich relationships and heartbreaking loss. Once we’d finished all of the books about Laura Ingalls Wilder, we moved on to the next series that chronicle the life of Laura’s daughter, Rose.
I credit our ritual of story time for instilling in my son a deep love of literature. He’s going into the third grade this year and already he’s an accomplished reader; he just wrapped up the final book of the Oz series on his own. I’m thrilled about that part, of course, but that in itself isn’t what I find most encouraging about his love of books. Rather, I love the fact that he can wander into a bookstore and find a book in just about any genre and waste away hours reading.
The stories he’s heard read aloud and those he’s read on his own have given him an impressive vocabulary, a deeper understanding of the world around him and—I believe—empathy for people in all ages and stages of life. If you happen to be the mother or father, sister or brother, grandmother or grandfather of a little one (even a newborn!) don’t underestimate the power of a book. And—please— don’t judge the appropriateness of that book by the gender of the character on the cover; the stories might surprise you.