“Why do you write?”
It was a question posed to my writing workshop class my final year of college. I’ve been mulling it over in my mind ever since, and four years later, I finally have the answer I wish I’d given that day instead of spewing whatever other word-vomit came out of my mouth.
Why do I write? Two reasons, above all else: Because I have to, because it is a compulsion as intrinsic to me as drawing in and exhaling breath.And because even before I began writing, I was in love with words and stories. And that was a direct result of my being exposed to so many books as a child.
My parents read books to my sister and me every day of our young childhood. Little Golden Books were a favorite. Also classics like Lambert the Sheepish Lion, Snuggle Piggy and the Magic Blanket, and The Big Hungry Bear. As we grew older, our parents would have us read to them as part of our bedtime ritual.This value upon reading, books, and stories in general is the greatest gift that my parents ever gave me. They instilled in me a lifelong love of words and a thirst for knowledge. There was magic and love in words, and endless possibility. Certainly more possibility than was offered in our tiny Northern Maine town, where the only jobs to be found were at the lumber mill or in the local gas stations and convenience stores. It was through those stories that my parents and I read together that I first became aware of a greater world outside my own reality, one full of people and experiences I never would have even imagined without that magic portal of books.
There are only a few things I know with absolute certainty. That Ben Franklin was right about the death and taxes thing – those two unavoidable facts of life. That I will always forget to pull my wipers away from my windshield before an ice storm. And finally, that there is no greater gift to give a child than a book. If you need further convincing, read on for five reasons why the love of reading is the best gift you can give your children.
- Giving a book is giving magic: When you read, you can become anyone, go anywhere, do, see, taste, hear, and smell anything. You can defeat dragons and find treasure; you can live in a castle or an old boxcar; you can swim the seas, swing through the trees, or even buy a wand in a magical village. A child reader can be anything he or she wants, any character in any story.
- Books open up whole new worlds: When you give a child a book (or read one aloud), you aren’t just handing them a physical object made up of paper and ink; you are handing them the entire world. You are giving them knowledge, beauty, humor, courage, compassion, love, magic, friendship. You are opening them up to wonder and delight and surprise. You are promoting an active imagination and inspiring your child to look beyond his or her own reality and into an infinite number of alternative worlds, lives, and experiences.
- Child readers are more open-minded and are less inclined to ostracize others not like themselves: I read an article once about how children who read are less likely to discriminate or display racist, superior attitudes towards other children of a different cultural background. And why is that? Because when you read, you are introduced to all sorts of characters. You are given greater insight into the human condition. A kid who reads about the misunderstood Boo Radleys of the world are less inclined to pass judgment on any other child who is of a different race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic class. When you give a child a book, you are helping to teach him or her to celebrate, rather than judge or condemn, everyone’s differences.
- Reading encourages confidence and self-esteem: When children and teens read of characters who are lonely, misunderstood, or up against seemingly insurmountable odds, they learn that they possess within themselves the same traits that allow those characters to save the day. They, too, can defeat the Dark Lord and save the wizarding world. They can inspire a following of people determined to overthrow a corrupt government just as their favorite, fierce female protagonists have done. They, too, can become authors, doctors, lawyers, policemen, musicians, teachers, activists, artists, presidents. The more a child reads, they more they believe (and rightly so) that they can be whatever they please.
- A family who reads together stays together: Okay, okay, we all know it’s not as simple and black and white as that. But I will always believe that the tradition of reading together as a family is a practice that can only have healthy benefits for the children (and the parents) both in the moment and down the road. It is a wholesome, genuinely feel-good activity, suitable for stormy winter nights or bright summer days.
As a child, I chose to remain in books even after my parents ceased the bedtime ritual of reading out loud together. That choice has influenced all my others, from hobbies to college majors to jobs – even to relationships (you don’t see me in love with a nonreader, after all, do you?). But above all else, the choice to remain a reader has led to what I feel is my vocation, my true calling. Which is, of course, to write. Without those early days of being read to and shown the magic of words, I never would have known that my life was waiting for me in stories. First, those that my parents read to me. And then in those that I discovered and devoured on my own. And finally, to the big thing, the lasting thing – those stories that I create with my own words, strung together out of thin air onto the blank page before me.
Who knows? Maybe your reading aloud to your child will inspire him or her to become a writer one day as well. Don’t fear! Despite the (somewhat justified) stigma of writers being starving artists… there are far worse fates.
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” – Emilie Buchwald
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