We’ve had a strange phenomenon in our home, concerning books. I realized not long ago that I barely pick up a picture book anymore. I used to write a semi-monthly series called What We Read which mostly featured picture books from the library–then I had a falling out with our local library (which I don’t think I’ve ever described here, but should write about) and the constant traffic of new books in our home rather ground to a halt.
Around the same time, we started focusing on chapter books, poetry (Mother Goose to Shel Silverstein), fables, and the Bible. We started reading every evening together as a family before bed, and that changed the flavor of books we were choosing from things like Goodnight Moon or Where The Wild Things Are to The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Also coinciding with this shift was our eldest learning to read, which happened rapidly over the course of a few months–literally leaping through several grade levels in that time. I have heard it typically happens this way, but was very glad to have it actually be true for us, as my inexperience made me worry over the process. So another reason why I haven’t read too many picture books lately is because he’s been doing that for me.
I’m making it a point to carve out time to continue reading to the littlest ones myself (and I really do have to carve it these days) but the transition has made me look closely at the closing of this chapter for our older children (no pun intended) and what it looks like to continue to raise readers–because the fact that Ephraim is reading (and likes to) doesn’t mean my work is done. It just means it’s changing forms.
I saw a meme the other day that stated that “children who read will be adults who think”. This is a lovely thought, but it deserves a very large asterisk accompanying it. Children who learn how to read for understanding and who read worthwhile things will be thinking adults. Reading is not an automatic ticket to thinking. Put simply: it depends on what you’re reading and how you’re reading it.
Early in his book How To Read a Book, author Mortimer Adler highlights the difference between reading for entertainment, reading for information, and reading for understanding. While all levels require the basic, elementary skill of being able to read–that is, being able to decode the symbols on a page and know what they are saying–reading for understanding is the most active and engaged of the three, as it involves not only the basic decoding but also analyzing, inspecting, and then comparing what the author says to other writers. Reading to gain understanding also requires the reader to grasp for things above himself–books that are out of his level of understanding.
Because a child willingly reads for entertainment–including after bedtime with a flashlight (how glad I am for that!)–it is tempting to think that the aim of “raising a reader” has been accomplished and (other than expanding his vocabulary) my main role will be to push books his way that will retain his interest and encourage that desire to read for entertainment. But this newfound joy has only enabled him to open the door to one mode of reading–and it’s the lowest mode. I’m glad for it, but I want more for him.