If Books Read Themselves


We were driving home one evening a few weeks back when my 9-year old nephew and my daughters were talking about things they disliked. It included everything from bathing to chores and homework to flu shots.

When I thought they had surely exhausted their list of troubles, my nephew said, “I wish teeth cleaned themselves.”

Isn’t that the truth? There are evenings I am so tired I just want to crawl into bed and live with the consequences of abandoning all the pre-bedtime rituals…but then I remember that teeth do not clean themselves nor do spouses appreciate bad breath (especially in the close proximity of a bed).

It makes me think of another nightly ritual that I too often do abandon (and I write a website called “Father Knows Books!”) – reading with my kids.  I can’t believe the evenings I’ve wasted not reading with them.  My oldest daughter is 19, so I have been reading off and on with daughters just before bedtime for about 18 and half years (that’s 6,756 nights of possible reading opportunities).  If I read just 20 minutes an evening during those years, that equals 135,120 minutes!

A recent fact sheet by Scholastic and entitled Read Every Day/Lead a Better Life reveals that “children learn an average of 4,000 to 12,000 new words each year as a result of book reading;” and that “if a child reads as much as one million words per year, they will be in top 2% of all children on standardized reading tests. If a child reads as little as 8,000 words per year, they will be in bottom 2% of all children on standardized reading tests. Therefore, if you read 3,000 words every day you will be in the top 2%. If you read 20 words every day, you will be in the bottom 2%.”

Reading is Fundamental (RIF), the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States, wrote in a recent article, “Even after children learn to read by themselves, it’s still important for you to read aloud together. By reading stories that are on their interest level, but beyond their reading level, you can stretch young readers’ understanding and motivate them to improve their skills.”

When my daughters and I have read together, we have also lived a dozen lives together. We have been the beasts of Oz and the wild children of Neverland, the ferocious pirates of Treasure Island and the ogres of Frell, the brave animals of Narnia and the mysterious dragons of Tangerine.

No matter what we wish, books do not read themselves. They require a voice, a narrator, a reader…they require us.

Of Pencils and Crayons

A drawing is simply a line going for a walk. – Paul Klee



Hindsight has brought me to the happy realization that there are so many books and authors that have shaped my thinking and living as a father, but there are only a handful that I can honestly say I remember with great detail from childhood all the way into fatherhood.  These are simply books that have always been a part of my life, from my earliest memories to this very week.  The “how-to-draw” books of Ed Emberley are in that handful.

I wouldn’t be surprised, especially if you grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, if you remember his name, too.  Scholastic didn’t have book fairs in school back then (the first was officially held in California in 1981), but I was like a kid in a candy store when I saw the teacher break out her stack of book order forms and start passing them out among the class.


I wanted nearly everything in those flyers, but if there was an Ed Emberley book listed…that is all I wanted.  I have most of his 13 books about children’s-style drawing, while his children’s books continue to inspire our daughters.  His newest, The Crocodile and the Scorpion, was created with his daughter, Rebecca, also an accomplished children’s writer and illustrator.


I was drawn to the Emberley books because I am not a natural artist.  Since I can’t really see something and then draw it in a way that makes much sense to anyone else, as a boy I was often left with drawing stick figures or tracing coloring book pages!  But after I received my first book by this great artist, that changed.  This is the kind of art I wanted to draw.  It is all about using shapes and lines and dashes and colors in a very simple step-by- step process to create fantastic stuff like dragons, spiders, boats, funny faces, bridges, buildings and on and on.  I was able to draw castles and plot out stories through these drawings and I loved every minute of it.  It finally allowed me to give some form to my thoughts.

Now that I am a father (especially when my daughters were younger), the kids often ask me to draw and color with them.  As soon as I introduced some of these books to them and we began creating these funny worlds together, they were hooked.  It also gave them the great feeling that they could indeed draw and that they are indeed artists. Books that do that are books worth having.

If you haven’t visited his website yet (www.edemberley.com), please do.  You will love it and your children will love it and, more importantly, when you show them how to draw some of the things that this gifted children’s artist teaches, you will be the rock star of the house!

The Wisdom Tooth Reader


We are sitting in an oral surgeon’s waiting room this morning. Our 13-year old is having her wisdom teeth pulled. I am waiting and relishing the opportunity to read something that is hanging on this long rack of great magazines right by my chair. I have a book with me, but these are just too enticing.  They are all current (what a miracle!) and include TV Guide, Time, Boy’s Life (which I used to read when I was a kid), People, Golf Digest, and Sports Illustrated.

Isn’t it something that there are things to read nearly everywhere we go? The sheer number of words hanging here on this wall beside me…millions, trillions…who knows?

One thing in common among them is that they are all written from a point of view.  Somebody wants us to read these words.  They tout some wisdom, be it cheap and shoddy or profound and priceless. It may be a whole article, a paragraph, or just a sentence, but if you read anything you know what I mean when I say that there will often come that moment when the lightbulb goes off while you’re reading…and a whole new world of thought (aka wisdom) opens before your eyes.

All of that to say this – reading is too important to not find a way to enjoy it.  If my daughters come home with a book that they start reading and decide they don’t like, we get a new book!  Life is too short to waste time reading a book or article (unless of course it is necessary for you to read either for school or work or to improve something about your life) that you can’t find a way to enjoy.  I have friends who have nearly given up on getting their little boys to read because nothing interests them.  But that’s just not true – there is something that interests them and sometimes it takes some time to figure out what that something is.  Here’s a hint though – it may not be a book in the true sense of the word.  It might be a comic book or a magazine or an instruction manual or an encyclopedia or a Ripley’s Believe it or Not/Guinness Book of World of Records fact book or a cookbook or a map or a brochure.  Reading is everywhere and is everywhere available!

I remember the day my dad bought me The Empire Strikes Back movie book in script form.  It was the published screenplay (from my favorite of the Star Wars movies) and included original artwork from Lucas and his team and even had the stage cues and camera angle ideas typed or written into the margins.  It was the coolest bit of reading I had done at that point in my life and it was a turning point for me in helping me look at the library and at bookstores for the things I wanted to read.

Here is an excellent article from Scholastic about the subject that I hope you’ll take a minute to read.  It is a short list that just might give you one of those “lightbulb” moments of wisdom (with or without the teeth!).  Just click on the photo below and it will take you direct to the article at Scholastic: