We love books at our house. Okay, that is actually a gross understatement. We adore books. We treasure books. We CANNOT LIVE without books. We have four bookshelves and two e-readers currently in our home; all of them overflowing with books. And it makes my heart happy. (Yes, I'm one of 'those' people who finds the smell of a book rather intoxicating and sometimes I sniff their pages...) I was a voracious reader growing up and spent nearly all of my free time reading everything I could get my hands on. According to my mother-in-law, the total of books my husband read before meeting me was...two (not so much a dedicated reader). A few months before we got married, I gave my husband my precious, battered paperback copy of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird with the instructions to read it before the wedding. He must have been serious about wanting to marry me because he did. He read every word. And LOVED it. In the early days of our marriage, it was not uncommon for us to be up until 3am (what were we thinking?!) and I would read aloud to him from the Harry Potter book series. Slowly but surely, he became a reader. Eight and a half years and two children later, my husband and I still read constantly. Today, more often that not, I'm the one who has to ask him to turn off his book light so I can get some sleep! I'm sure our marriage would still have been a good one had my husband not become interested in books. However, I feel that it is bettered by the fact that we both enjoy reading and can have intelligent, lively discussions on things we've read, whether they be novels, articles from National Geographic, or a news story.
Our five-year-old son is the insatiable reader I once was. He started requesting chapter books be read aloud to him a few months before he turned three. For his fourth birthday, all he asked for were 'all the books about Paddington Bear.' His favorite day of the week is "library day" and he often checks out a dozen books at a time. It is not uncommon for him to be in the middle of multiple chapter books at once.
Together, we've journeyed through the works of Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, P.L. Travers, E.B. White, and countless other classic and modern children's novels as well as some more adult choices like The Hobbit and The Little Prince. He often asks that I read to him from what I'm reading (whether it's a paperback or 'on the Kindle') and always has good insight or questions about the material. Most recently, we've started The Secret Garden and his eyes grew wide as I read and then discussed with him what cholera was and why Mary was living in India, even though she was English. Reading allows him to explore new interests. For example, he recently read a book from the library that had a character in it that carved models. Since finishing the book, my son has spent hours in his room constructing model cities with his Lego blocks. Reading expands his mind and keeps it open. It enhances and encourages his imagination. Did those things really happen in the Mary Poppins books? Probably not, but isn't it fun to PRETEND?! Magic isn't real, but wouldn't it be exciting if there really were wizards like Harry Potter and Gandalf the Grey?! Books are mesmerizing to us, and for the half hour or so we read in the mornings and again before bed, my usually wiggly, squirmy, noisy, can't-sit-still boy is silent, frozen, and rapt with attention.
As a homeschooling family, the books we read often lead us to study new things or introduce concepts. To some, this might not fit into their plans or schedule, but we welcome the interruptions. If a book leads us to a new concept, we embrace it, study it, and engulf ourselves in it. We seize the moment and learn all we can while it's fresh and new. Just this year, we've been led to study the works of Michaelangelo, spend time together poring over maps and finding places and regions, learned about several cultures and languages, and explore various landmarks and historic figures. And, as always, these studies bring us full circle to, can you guess? More books. ("I wonder where polar bears live in the wild. Mommy, let's get a book about them at library and find out.") Ahhh, books.
Books are so amazing to us, even our two-year-old daughter (who has sensory issues that basically prevent her from EVER sitting still) loves the library story time. Until recently, I thought she was putting up with this just for the snack and silly songs. Then, one day last week, I heard her chanting to herself "Crazy hair, crazy hair, crazy hair." It was a line from one of the books they had read at story time at least two weeks before! She was actually LISTENING to the stories!!! What an encouragement to me, especially on the days my voice is growing hoarse trying to read over the noise she is making while she jumps on and off the couch! Even if she seems to be engaged elsewhere, she's tuned in on some level. She might not sit cross-legged and wide eyed, but she's hearing me people!! And one day, I fully expect her to be holed up in the play tent with big brother, listening to the adventures of Robin Hood or Ivanhoe.
I encourage you to read. Read for yourself. Read to your children. Read together. Discuss what you read, let it permeate your lifestyle. You'll be amazed at what your children glean from books you would never have thought they'd enjoy. They will point out things in real life that remind them of a character or setting or problem in the story they've been reading. Their minds will be expanded, enriched, opened and it's wonderful to watch. And don't be surprised if people in the grocery store stop and stare because your son decided to wear a Santa Claus hat, salute, bow, and exclaim, "Balin, at your service!" to every stranger you pass. It's part of the beautiful process of expanding his horizons. Enjoy.