This is National Young Readers Week. Who knew? A bunch of librarians and a few teachers, that’s who. Also me, because I live in a bubble world where I have time to pay attention to such things and then let you know about them. I do it for you, people.
I could talk on and on about reading to young children, but I think all the grownups have already said quite a lot on the topic. We all know that we’re supposed to read our kids books before bed, and we’ve all heard what that can do for their reading development. Instead, I decided to ask my kids a few questions about bedtime stories. I also asked my daughter’s best friend (a serious reader) for her thoughts, since she was with us at the time.
Their thoughts first. Then mine (because of course I’m not going to say actually nothing).
Where is your favorite place to read?
Lucy (5): In my end of the day spot at school
Scott: (8): In my room, on my bed
Ellie (10): Under a willow tree or in the library [Note: I was unaware that she had much experience reading under willow trees, but I will allow that it’s a lovely idea.]
Ellie’s friend (10): In my bed
Would you rather read to yourself at bedtime or be read to?
Lucy (5): At home, I like to have someone read to me. [Note: this is fairly obvious, since she can’t read yet.]
Scott, Ellie, Friend: Read to myself [Note: the “duh” was implied in all three cases.]
If someone is going to give you a bedtime story, would you rather they read you a book or tell you a story out of their head. Why?
Lucy (5): Scary story out of somebody’s head
Scott (8): Out of their head because that way I can’t look at the book at what they are about to read. I can’t see what’s in their head.
Ellie (10): Told a story they made up
Friend (10): Told a story out of their head
What do you think makes the best kind of bedtime story?
Lu (5): Scary princess stories
Scott (8): Adventurous and funny just because I like those better all the time
Ellie (10): A funny story. I feel like at nighttime, I need something to make me laugh.
Friend (10): Funny or happy. If it was scary, I wouldn’t be able to sleep.
Can you remember your favorite book that people read to you when you were little? What was it?
Lu (5) Right now, Pete the Cat. When I was little, I don’t remember.
Scott (8): [thinks a very long time] I don’t remember.
Ellie (10): I don’t remember
Friend (10): These Sesame Street books. I don’t remember what they were called or the details.
In a picture book for kids, which is more important: the written story or the illustrations? Which needs to be really good to make it a great book?
Lucy (5): The words because you know in like scary stories, you can still tell what’s happening from pictures but you don’t know for sure what the author meant without the words
Scott (8): The written story. The point isn’t really the pictures.
Ellie (10): The writing because that is more interesting than the pictures.
Friend (10): The story
Don’t know about you, but I found bits of that quite interesting , and I do mean other than the fact that my 5-year-old is obsessed with scary stories.
First, I apologize to artists everywhere. I’m pretty sure their answer to that last question represents a bias I have handed down to them. I won’t claim that their answers are representative of all kids. (I will admit that Scott saying the point is the story and not the pictures was extremely satisfying, though.)
The most interesting piece of all of this was how they all emphatically preferred a made-up bedtime story to a story out of a book. I’d love to explore that one further with them and in other research. In fact, I think I will. But it does speak powerfully for the art of storytelling. Books are great, but I suspect that what kids love is the personal connection of a story that comes from inside you. It’s more spontaneous. It’s more unpredictable (as per Scott’s reasoning). It’s more about the relationship than even the fun of the story. Storytelling is awesome.
Also, for those of you with little kids, take note of the fact that my big kids now greatly prefer reading to themselves and don’t even have clear memories of those picture books they once made me read over and over. That does NOT mean that those times were wasted. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. The reason they love reading to themselves now (rather than struggling with reading and therefore still wanting to be read to) is largely because of all that time we read to them. And the fact that they don’t still cling fondly to those picture books is because they’ve been pushed out of their minds by the chapter books they now consume so happily. What this perspective does bring, though, is freedom. The act of reading together is what mattered, not what we read. So, parents of toddlers, you can dump the books that drive you crazy! It’s quite all right.
This whole book thing is like the rest of parenthood. Hours and hours I put into reading the same old inane picture books. And now? I can still quote every word of Hippos Go Beserk (which to be clear, was one of the good ones), and they don’t even remember that we used to read it. But they DO still love to read and they DO still love to sit on my lap. Not at the same time anymore (which frankly is good, because now they have all these long limbs that get in the way), but those hours paid off.
It’s not about what they remember. It’s about who they’ve become.
They’ve become people who want to sit and read under willow trees, at least in their imaginations. They’ve become people who want to snuggle into bed and listen to a scary princess story before sleep. These are people I’m really glad to know.
(Though now I’m going to have to work on my scary princess stories. It’s a very specific genre. Ideas?)