Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 10, 2008

Bonding with Books

Yesterday I got an instant message from my husband, from his computer a few rooms away. He wrote: Shouldn’t you be blogging?

Well, yes, I should. First week of classes is exciting, and the air is crisp, and I dug out some sweaters and scarves; but it also means getting students’ names on and off lists, checking on book orders, getting keys and id cards and parking permits – and teaching at both UMass and Mount Holyoke this fall, I have double the housekeeping sorts of things. Anyway, most of that’s done and all in all everything is so much easier than when I was in college and you stood in long lines to register or find out the classes you wanted were full. At UMass I’m teaching in a dorm classroom and when I got my card to swipe and enter, I asked how the students who didn’t live there would get in. I was told that when they register for the class, the computers automatically make their I.D. cards into passes into the dorm.

First classes also have their share of housekeeping, but there was some sharing of memories of books I look forward to moving into the reading list. Yesterday I met a friend for a drink to celebrate her birthday (just to get an idea of how old we are, it was a drink and soup. Very good lentil soup I must say). I told her how I was surprised and touched by the number of students who mentioned they wanted to take Children’s Lit because they had never been read to as children. Now they wanted to sort of catch up.

“You’re surprised? I was never read to as a child,” my friend said. “That’s why I wanted to learn to read so much. Big books, that would take me out of my house.”

What a bubble I sometimes live in. I hear and say so much about the importance of reading to children, that I kind of thought the world had changed, and this was as common as ID cards packed with all sorts of information. I was reminded how lucky I was. My home had its problems, but my dad read to the three kids at night. Changing his voice for the characters in Winnie-the-Pooh. Staying more engaged than I was in Swiss Family Robinson. At this point in my life it’s more like a memory of a memory, but I do remember this as a time of feeling loved and close, even if I fought with my sibs about book choices.

Reading to my daughter was a favorite time I do remember, and I didn’t usually care how long that bedtime ritual lasted. Except for a few books, like Berenstein Bears and Adelia Bedelia, which lost their luster for me faster than they did for my daughter. We kept up this ritual long after she could read herself, so I read some of Phyllis Naylor’s Alice series to her – and now check them out of the library to see how Alice is doing: (Patrick is still around). These books have lost something for me, too, but it’s probably me and not the fact that Naylor has devoted herself, ( seriously devoted, keeping in touch on line with readers who feel she alone understands them) to writing two books about each year of Alice’s life beginning in fourth or fifth grade.

Reading together is one of life’s great pleasures. My daughter and her suite mates recently marathoned on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books. Em’s now reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel American Wife; we’ll see if she draws her friends into that, too. And I’m looking forward to class where some will have the pleasure of taking first looks at the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Winnie-the-Pooh, Charlottes Web, Alice in Wonderland and others.

“So are you going to read aloud to them, because they missed that?” my husband asked.

I’m afraid we might fall asleep – the class meets 7 to 10 – but we’ll do a little of that. Some of those good things of childhood should never stop.



  1. I always love your posts! 🙂
    My father read to me and my sister when we were children. I loved making him read Fox in Socks – but he got really good at all those tongue twisters.
    Bob and I read to C when she was very young, and I kept it up as she grew older. And while I no longer read to her at bedtime, every summer, we have one read-aloud book. This summer’s book was a bust so we never finished one together (although we read a lot of the same books). I love it when C and I can discuss a book together!

  2. I love reading about your bookstore trips and reading with C and can imagine those discussions get pretty lively! With Em on your side of the continent now, which she lately referred to the right side, reading remains a fun way to stay connected. She promised to send me a write-up about Twilight and I guess now I’ll have to read Sittenfeld’s Laura Bush novel, which she finds gripping, to stay caught up. (of course she was smitten, as was I, by the pretty cover).
    That’s so cool that you have a summer read-aloud! Great idea!

  3. Fascinating about the reading.
    We’ve been told by more than one person that the reason E is a reluctant reader is because we read to him too much when he was little (and still do). 😦
    I don’t believe them. 🙂

  4. I have to say that’s about the stupidest thing I ever heard. Not you. Those “we’ve been told” folks. Glad you are such great parents and can roll your eyes.

  5. Jo, you probably got this, but that anonymous person was me.

  6. a reluctant reader is because we read to him too much
    but maybe there’s some truth to that…sad, sad as it may be. cuz i was. and my mom did. i’m over it now. but it took me 47 years to get here…. 😦

  7. I’m going to have to ask my mom about this. I’m SURE I was read to as a kid; I had to be, right? But apparently, I started reading to myself at about four, and my sister played school with me when she came home–teaching me what she was learning in first grade. Not to mention we had a YOUNGER sister, and my mom was working part-time at their vet clinic. I’ll have to ask.
    What I most remember, and I think this has to play into it, is EVERYBODY reading. The only rooms in the house without bookshelves were the living room and bathrooms, and half of those had magazine racks. Reading was what we DID, all of us, with any free time. Yes, I watched way too much TV,too, but it was usually with a book in my lap. 🙂
    Has the reading aloud just merged into my past, as a building block that has disappeared from my conscious memory? Definitely have to check with Mom!
    Read your class the scene where Pooh goes to see if Rabbit’s home, the part BEFORE he gets stuck in the doorway. Then play them a bit of audio from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’m pretty sure John Cleese grew up on Pooh. 🙂

  8. ACK! Jo, Who told you this?!! Yikes! (Okay, I do think one of the reason my son isn’t particularly good at finding books himself at bookstores and libraries is because, well, I just bring home piles of books for him all the time.) There is NO way this is true. Well, you know that. But…GEEZ!

  9. This was the general attitude at his old school, which is why he has a new school.
    I get that maybe he prefers that we read to him, so he avoids reading himself. But I don’t believe he struggles with reading because he’s been read to. I think the opposite is true. I think if we hadn’t read to him, he’d be having even tougher problems.
    Oh well.

  10. Jo, I just can’t even believe this, that it’s tied to your reading to him. I think the reading part of the brain is like a light switch, one day its just ON. It may have to do with finding a favorite subject, or a new author, but I’ve seen it happen so many times with kids. My husband didn’t really read until he was eleven, when his sister handed him a Heinlein book. And he is a HUGE reader.

  11. Thanks Becky,
    It really helps to hear this.

  12. Re: a reluctant reader is because we read to him too much
    So what’s 47 years? Well, you raise a point, but I think it’s more a good reminder that we all have our paths. It’s one thing, in your case, to choose nourishment making art and music over reading books. It’s another for someone to claim: x and y is why your kid is this way. Esp when the kid seems happy with that way.

  13. Yeah, I have to ask my sister and try to know more what the true truth is and what I think I remember. But like you, I KNOW we grew up in a house with books and with a TV that didn’t work very well — a few fuzzy black and white channels, being back in the day, my young friend. That did make a difference!
    Thanks for the Pooh tip! I put it in my notes!

  14. That is an important story, about your brother and Heinlein. Thanks from me, too!

  15. So what’s 47 years?
    My rough math of being say 5 or 7, in grade school, when someone might “say that sort of thing ” about me and my age now of almost 54, when I now have begun to read on my own.
    I don’t know. There were many years when I just didn’t read and I didn’t fill that time with any so productive. And yes, then there were those years when I couldn’t seem to justify the time spent “reading” when I should be –or felt I should be– “doing” art or music.
    But you’re right. Someone’s trying to make a very easy equation. And people just aren’t that kind of math.

  16. Love your post, Jeannine–and you’re definitely NEVER too old to be read to. I still read with my almost-13-year-old and would with my 16yo if she was willing. Randy and I read Kidnapped and Prime of Miss Jean Brodie aloud to each other before our Scotland trip!
    You read to those students–even if it’s just a scene here and there. It’s so lovely to hear an enthusiastic reader read just for you!
    I don’t remember ever being read to as a child. My older sisters played school with me a lot, so maybe they read to me then? My first memory of being read to is Mrs. Gracey, my 3rd-grade teacher, reading Where the Red Fern Grows to the class.

  17. Maybe it’s partly the day, but your post brought tears. I hate to think of you waiting so long to be read to, but then wonderful, and here I’m not surprised, that you read so much with your children.
    I am glad for Mrs. Gracey! One of my best friends also had a teacher who read a lot, including Sue’s intro to The Hobbit. This good woman seems to have been a legend in the community.
    I will read to my students, and have them read aloud, too –just won’t encourage them to bring sleeping bags. Since it’s a three hour class, one of the ways I plan to break it up is to include some poems and picture books related to the themes.
    Thanks for the beautiful comment!

  18. Well, I learned to read very early (4), and my parents probably thought they didn’t need to mess with it. And as the youngest of 4 kids, I’m sure there wasn’t much one-on-one time. And, well, they pretty much stunk at lots of that parenting stuff:>)
    I’m glad for Mrs. Gracey, too, and profs like you who are keeping the tradition alive!

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