The Magic of Reading

Photo by Valerie Fischel

I love New York. For many reasons. But last week I loved New York because the New York Public Library was filled with lots of Moms and Dads who “get it” about reading with kids.

Parenting Magazine and Target teamed up for Read.Connect.Grow, a special series designed to raise awareness and share strategies to improve early literacy. Parents in Washington, D.C., St. Paul, Minn., and New York City heard from teachers, literacy experts, child advocates and children’s book authors.

The mechanical statistics are grim. The research is clear, and a no-brainer. If kids can’t read well by third grade, they start to get behind in school and they often never catch up.

These parents, however, weren’t calling for more reading drills to prepare for a standardized test. They get it. They know if kids don’t LOVE reading, they won’t open a book. And if you don’t read for pleasure, you won’t get the practice you need to be a fluent reader.

They know there is no sterile drill and practice for getting kids to love reading. You can only do it with magic.

I remember sitting with my bouncing baby boy on my lap and letting him gum a book I was reading to him. When he was two, he’d repeat the rhyming words at the end of each line of Dr. Seuss with me. When he was four, he could read simple books and knew if I was skipping something and turning the page early. He was not amused.

Photo by Valerie Fischel

There was magic at every bedtime, and my kids knew that it was their Constitutional Right to a Story and a Song and a Kiss and a Hug. It was the warmth of closeness, so close you could hear a heartbeat. It was hearing the soft voice repeat a familiar story. It was the magic of a big person lavishing on a little person, the most valuable resource either of them has: Time.

It was magic after lunch recess when my 6th graders would come in hot and sweaty and smelly and laughing and full from Twinkies and not at all ready for the Health and Science review. They knew that after lunch it was time to sit quietly for fifteen minutes, and they did. Because I was in the middle of Bridge to Terabithia or Old Yeller or Tuck Everlasting.

Photo by Valerie Fischel

The kids got used to me reading them a chapter book that seemed overwhelmingly huge at first, but when read in a chapter nibble or two after lunch, went fast – too fast! When I would stop at some cliffhanger, they would all send up a protest shout, “No! One more chapter! I can’t wait until tomorrow!”

This is, of course, the formula for popular soap operas and telenovelas. Because it works. It worked so well with my class that some of them would find the book in the library so they could read ahead. It was magic. Reading to a child doesn’t take the place of learning phonics and grammar and spelling. Reading to a child is not about basic skills, as important as basic skills are.

Reading to a child is all about magic. It’s about painting a picture inside a mind; constructing a web of concentration and imagining what comes next and asking what they think or feel or remember. We all go gaga over new interactive smart computer games. The ultimate interactive activity is a big person sitting next to a little person and opening a book and out of the very air spinning a gold atmosphere of magic that makes a child want to read.

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