Issues of literacy, post-literacy and how words and pictures fit into children’s lives nowadays are frequent topics of discussion in the blogsphere this year, including on our PaperTigers Blog. Since we began blogging some 9 months ago, Marjorie’s Books at Bedtime has been suggesting ways to make reading a vital part of children’s lives. Janet’s The Tiger’s Bookshelf also weighs in on the subject periodically. Readers share their views, and with nary a naysayer to date: it’s not likely that our PaperTigers community would deny the countless benefits of being exposed to books and stories from a very early age!
We can’t teach babies and toddlers language by putting them in front of the TV. Children learn language, and learn to love language, by being spoken with. Words come to have meaning in the context of important relationships (with parents, grandparents, teachers and/or other caring adults.) After a young mind, and (if we are lucky) soul, has been touched in this safe, nurturing context, a love of reading usually follows naturally. Reading aloud to children is a concept most of us espouse. But at the end of the day (quite literally at the end of the day, in many cases), it can be hard to make the time. It is one thing to know the benefits from a daily dose of books and reading and another altogether to see these benefits in action, translated into kids begging to stay up late to finish a book, or to be read “just one more page!” What a joy it is to hear those words! They are a good indicator that a love of language has been born and will keep on manifesting itself into and throughout adulthood.
The CCBC-net listserv’s recent discussion of nostalgia (as a new trend in children’s books) ended up turning, for a few days, into a thread about memories of reading to children and being read to. CCBC librarian Megan Schliesman (quoted here with permission) offers an insight about the apparent change of subject: “I’m struck by how our discussion of nostalgia in books has turned to one in which so many of us are thinking fondly of being read to and of reading to children. I find there is something essentially nostalgic in the idea of gathering around to listen together to a story, but all of us who read aloud also know that it’s an act that transcends nostalgia, which so often places a divide between child and adult. Instead, reading aloud brings together individuals who might be otherwise divided by age or experience or background.”
On the same thread, Megan Lambert, Instructor of Children’s Literature Programs at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, mentioned that candid anecdotes about the reading life are just as important as empirical evidence when it comes to the importance of reading. (She is writing a book about this.) “…I recently heard Vivian Gussin Paley speak on the importance of play in the life of the child, and she put out a call for an army of anecdotes about play to counteract the trend toward No Child Left Behind, standardized tests, etc. We need to document the power of reading aloud in this way too. Studies and data and all the rest pointing to how reading aloud creates strong readers are important, but so too are stories that we can all tell about powerful shared reading experiences.”
Absolutely. We all need stories to tell, to listen to, to share. So let the importance of reading in children’s lives be a talking point. One that will continue as long as there are readers and books.
For up-to-date round-ups of articles and blog posts on the subject of reading and literacy, Jen Robinson’s Book Page is the destination. Here’s her latest.
(Image credit: illustration by Elizabeth Gómez, from the book Moony Luna, written by Jorge Argueta.)