If Books Read Themselves

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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.

The Coolest Maps of Childhood

This week in the teacher education class that I teach at our local college, we are talking about geography – what it looks like through the perspective of young children between the ages of around 4 or 5 to between 8 and 10, and how to teach it to them in a vibrant way. Our goal in any type of instruction is to start with what the learner knows and then bring them along in teaching them something we want them to know.  A map does much the same thing – it shows us where we are and where we want to go.

Map Winnie the Pooh

This is why this evening’s lecture is among my favorite subjects for one reason – these incredible maps!  When you think about it, it is really astounding how much maps are a part of our lives. Whether it is the three or four apps for maps that I have on my cell phone or the Garmin navigator in our car or the bookmarked map website on my desktop or those peculiarly large and colorful maps at the mall – we use them all the time.

Incredibly, some of your favorite books from childhood probably included a map.  For example, think of the classics like Winnie the Pooh, The Hobbit, My Father’s Dragon, and Treasure Island. Each of these books has the most elaborate and childlike map on their end pages or mixed among the chapter titles. Their illustrators inherently understood the powerful use of maps in the lives of children and books.

Map treasure-Island

And if you haven’t read the original Pooh books in years or haven’t looked over the wonderfully detailed maps of My Father’s Dragon, this is the weekend to do such things!

Here’s why – maps give children a sense of place in the world that exists around their home and in the world that exists around their imagination. So take them on a walk around your world this evening. Show them on a big map some exotic far-off place you want to visit with them before you die. Make your own map of the Land of Oz or Journey to the Center of the Earth this Sunday afternoon. Bury some treasure-filled shoebox in the backyard and make the coolest old pirate map drawn with crayons on a brown paper sack. Or instead of drawing it, build your map with blocks or clay or legos or even old fruit from the fridge! Your kids (and you) will love every word and every memory and every map you make of it.

Map My Fathers Dragon