Obligation 1: Read Aloud To Your Kids

My son is growing up, and I don’t always handle it well. I look back on his early years with rose-colored glasses, I’m sure. Time has a marvelous way of erasing memories of tantrums and replacing them with images of familial perfection.


One of my perfect, rosy memories is the quiet time I spent reading to my son. In the beginning I’d read to him before settling him down for a nap or bedtime. He was always a busy, physical, moving boy, and reading books together calmed his active muscles. He would stop moving to focus on the sound of my voice, the words I was reading, the story I was telling. Often I’d read aloud a book I was enjoying, not a children’s book, and his eyes would drop closed as I softly crooned the writer’s prose.

As he grew older, we began reading in the late morning after my chores were done. We would read in the late afternoon when he’d just woken from a nap. We’d read after a warm bath, right before bedtime. He munched his way through board books, and I rejoiced when he graduated to ripping the pages of only every third picture book. Gifts of books from family and friends were essential in those days, as were large quantities of scotch tape.

He began requesting personal favorites. We memorized Golden Books about bulldozers and backhoes. His favorites were different from mine. I never got tired of Ox-Cart Man, Make Way for Ducklings, or The Big Snow. He wanted to hear all about the latest exploits of Rosemary Wells’s McDuff and laughed uncontrollably at the antics of Alexandra Day’s Carl. We shared affection for Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

I owe Ms. Wells and Ms. Day, Virginia Lee Burton, Donald Hall, Robert McCloskey, Berta and Elmer Hader, and so many other children’s book authors such gratitude. They brought laughter and excitement to my son’s eyes. They were his first excursion into the vast, exciting world of words. They sparked his imagination and instilled in him a love of reading. And they gave me such wonderful, rosy memories of quiet mornings, afternoons, and evenings cuddled together with my son and a pile of books.

(This post was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s lecture at The Reading Agency.)