Friday, April 13, 2012

Trouble with Reading

Sometimes children have trouble with reading and sometimes their parents do. Today’s parents are the first generation who do not remember life without televisions and computers. This is partly responsible for a decline in reading in general, and the kinds of books we read in particular.

It is encouraging that so many parents today still want their children to be well read. The problem arises for them with knowing how to accomplish this. Most adults have not grown up reading great or even classic children’s literature. Consequently, when it comes to making book choices for their children, doubts assail them.

A few years ago, a mother of three young children sat in the front row of a crowded room where Emily and I were giving a presentation on the importance of reading, describing what living books are, and showing examples of the differences between new and old books. She could barely suppress her excitement, occasionallly bursting out with exclamations. Afterward, she literally followed on our heels back to our table where she picked up an application to our library.

Very soon thereafter she came for her visit, eagerly checking out piles of out-of-print picture books on every subject, convinced these treasures held the keys to her children’s learning. She was not disappointed. Every time they returned books we heard of how whole worlds were opening up to them and how the children were flourishing on this new diet of living ideas.

But one day a couple of years later she was a little downcast. The children had moved up to more challenging books and they had discovered the first book in our library that they didn’t like. It was The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle. She said that the children were not enjoying it, but on further questioning, she realized that she herself was having difficulty reading the unfamiliar language of a former day. The rich, beautiful words he wove to describe these old and well-loved adventures was awkward for her. I encouraged her to forge ahead knowing that as she became accustomed to the style, the story would take over.

Yes, language has changed. Language is a living thing and takes on new shapes and meanings every year, but with the advent of communication media, these changes have been exponential in the 100+ years since this classic book was written.

Now this is a very typical American mother, college educated, a professional career woman with many technological skills. Perhaps the not-so-typical part of her story is that she decided to stay home with her children, and then, even more out of the ordinary, had decided to homeschool them. Knowing she had the courage, I urged her not to quit reading this book. Her children soon were play-acting Robin Hood and, lo and behold, speaking in Howard Pyle’s words, old words, lovely words, that were new to them and full of ideas that had taken hold. “Out of the mouths of babes…”

The funny thing is, their vocabulary had expanded tremendously just from this one book, and they hadn’t used a single vocabulary or reading comprehension workbook.

For the joy of reading,


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