Saturday, April 25, 2015

Classic Literature - The Importance of Reading To Your Children

Photograph by Leticia Alaniz © 2014
One first needs a good desire to eat, drink and read… Thus, in the morning before the books piled high on my table, to the god of reading, I say my prayer of the devouring reader: ‘Give us this day our daily hunger…’ Gaston Bachelard (French philosopher).

Reading provides our brains with nourishment and best of all it fulfills our desire to transport ourselves thru the pages to far away lands, or perhaps to a different culture, learn and hear another language, to witness magic, miracles, life, rebirth, feel love or sadness, quench our thirst, eat a marvelous and exotic dish, sense passion, travel in time, witness a fantasy where animals can talk, take pleasure in satisfying our curiosity and amuse and thrill our senses.  By reading, we enrich our lives and learn about the world while making us wiser and helping us grow our intellect. 

As soon as a baby is born, his brain is at work growing.  Therefore, it’s very important to start the ritual of reading right away.  At first a baby won’t understand your words, but it  stimulates and soothes a baby to hear his mother’s voice while she reads.  There are many stages of reading for all ages since infancy thru early childhood on to adolescence.  A lot of information is available on the subject, but for now I will ponder on the importance of introducing your child to classic literature.  

When I was a child, the summers were long and hot.  After making a trip to the candy store, buying a piece of gum or if the budget allowed, an ice cream, there was a lot of time to do nothing else but read.  There were days of climbing tress, building forts with white, powdery freshly washed sheets borrowed from my mother’s clothes line, or playing school or theater and eating bananas with cinnamon, or home made plum bread, for which the plums had been picked the night before just for the occasion of making the event a lot more “real”.  It was pretend play like in the Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, eating plum cake and drinking tea or even making a big pitcher of limeade with brown sugar which we drank in mismatched glasses.  

On other days, other re-enactments would rise to the occasion depending on the literature that was read aloud by my eldest sister, whom meticulously was always the one in charge of our home library.  We pretended she was the librarian and we “checked-out” books that she would have us read.  Many nights we stayed up late reading out loud works by Edgar Allan Poe.  

After a shower with cold water, we would all lay on a large blanket on the floor with a big square fan blowing in from the outside.  That was the only way to cool down on the hot summer nights.  The fan was placed in the window, which was left open without the screen, and it made a very loud buzzing sound which my sister dismissed as the loud thundering sound of the crashing waves of the poem Annabel Lee: 

It was many and many a year ago, In a kingdom by the sea, 
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me..

Every child should be lucky enough to be introduced to great literature early in their lives.  It is never too early!  There might have been some literature that scared me to death, like the night I stayed up reading the book of Revelation.  There were obscure, dark and extravagant imagery, and according to my imagination it was too ugly to even consider.  Nobody likes the devil!  Of course, it has a whole other meaning now, but try to explain that to a little girl of seven or eight.  I can’t imagine silence in heaven and nothing but loud trumpets sounding…

Then there were novels that I treasured so much that I craftily made by hand cloth or paper dust covers and wrote in big letters the title and the author.  Sometimes I wrote my name under the name of the author for good measure, just to make sure no one would take my treasured book.  I only remember one girl whom I loaned a book to and she never returned it.  That was a novel by Natalie Babbit called Tuck Everlasting.  It is a story about a family that was immortal and it had an illustration of a little red cabin in the woods right by a lake.  I must have read the novel at least three times in a row just to hear the song of the loons as the sun set every night and the reflection of the cabin brightened the dark woods.  Years later, in our adulthood my friend whom never returned the book and I laugh at how the book was lost.  It doesn’t matter, a new crisp copy is living out it’s immortality in my library.

When I graduated from preparatory school, an amazing teacher whom loved literature gave me a very special gift wrapped in an already used foil craft paper that looked like it might have been folded for a christmas present the year before.  Saving and refolding the used wrapping papers was a custom we practiced in our household too, so I didn’t mind, and it reinforced what I thought might be a custom only of the poor.  I always thought this teacher to be very Parisian yet casual in her manner of speech and most of all her vocabulary was rich and she came across as very cultured, which meant rich to me.  It was a copy of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  It was one of the most memorable days of my life.  Years later I read more novels by John Steinbeck but this one has a very special meaning,.  That summer I understood how literature can shape our lives and help us have better judgment.  The book occupies a space on the top shelf of my bookcase and every so often I like to read the dedication to remind me of the special teacher and the influence she had on my love for literature and words.

New generations of children may have new literature to read, but it is important to also expose them to the classics, especially the literature that promotes values and self reflection.  Classic books endure because they have compelling stories written in compelling language, no matter what language they may be translated to.  Examples are Kenneth Grahame’s, The Wind in the Willows, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, or for the younger readers, The Tales of Petter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter and children’s books by Cuban-American author Alma Flor Ada. 

Children whom are exposed to literature have a higher aptitude for learning in general.  Studies have shown that students who are exposed to reading before preschool are more likely to do well in all facets of formal education.  Children gain a tremendous amount of knowledge and best of all, they form a very strong loving bond with their loved ones as they read together. 

Reading aloud is special, especially if its to a child whom likes animals that talk like in the books of Little Bear by Elsa Holmelund Minarik and illustrated beautifully by Maurice Sendak.  Which takes me to the books by Maurice Sendak, Where The Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen.  

There truly is magic in the phrase ‘Once upon a time’…           

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