The Gift of Reading Aloud

For Mother’s Day, I decided to write about one of my most pleasurable experiences as a mom: reading aloud to my kids. Not just when they were little tykes, but as they grew.

By reading aloud, I could model my love for reading. Hearing stories and words beyond their reading level helped them grow in their vocabularies and knowlege, and introduced them to people and places near and far.

They learned to read with expression and take an active interest in the characters and story. And when they read aloud, they didn’t feel like they had to drone on, embarrassed to “get into” it for fear someone would say they were weird.

After we read a book we liked, we would go to the library and find more of the author’s work until we ran out. And best of all, the closeness of reading together night after night helped strengthen the bond we shared.

I remember the night I began reading Heidi. The boys lay in their bunks, dreading my choice of reading material, while the girls curled up beside me on the carpet. I made them listen to the first chapter, even if the boys didn’t like the title. By the time I had finished, they begged, “Don’t stop! Read more!” I admit that I loved reading aloud. Probably as much as they loved listening.

We switched off, reading different types of books, but always had one going. One of their favorites was The Black Stallion, a thrilling book about a boy and the wild horse that saves him, written by Walter Farley. And when my husband read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, the children were were mesmerized.

Some of my daughters’ favorites were the Betsy-Tacy books by Maude Hart Lovelace. These books were always a joy to read aloud. Based on the author’s diaries of her life in Mankato, Minnesota, during the early 1900s, they embrace the magic of childhood. The many books in this series take the reader from Betsy’s early childhood all the way through marriage. We took a break when Betsy became a teenager, and then continued. Eventually, the girls took the books into their room and read ahead, but always asked me to read to them at night.

The All of a Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor was another favorite. These books are about a poor immigrant Jewish family living in New York City’s upper east side around the time of WWI. These are wonderful stories about a family making the best of life together and solving their dilemmas.

One of the first chapter books I read aloud was Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. I had purchased a copy at a small bookstore, signed by illustrator Garth Williams.

Not only are the Little House books rich with characters, description and dialog, they teach history and geography. They depict respectful behavior and family responsibility.

Here’s a passage that imparts some of the wonder and tenderness of Little House on the Prairie: “Pa walked so swiftly that Laura could hardly keep up. She trotted along as fast as she could, but the sun sank faster. Home seemed farther and farther away. The prairie seemed larger, and a wind ran over it, whispering something frightening. All the grasses shook as if they were scared.

“Then Pa turned around and his blue eyes twinkeld at Laura. He said: ‘getting tired, little half-pint? It’s a long way for little legs.'”

I never considered reading aloud to be a privilege for my kids. I considered it a necessity. All kids deserve the gift of being read to. It’s an experience you – and they – will never forget. FFG

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