Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

My husband and I, both college English teachers with humanities PhDs, prayed for a child who would love books. We tried to come up with few expectations for our child’s preferences, but, honestly, in our household, a child who doesn’t like to read would seem a little strange. And at least the first time around, we’re lucky: This kid adores stories, nonfiction too, but mostly stories with lovable characters like Frog and Toad. She continually surprises us with phrases taken directly from her beloved books, like when she told her daddy, “I cannot see anything at all!” We’d forgotten where the line came from and realized in a later reading session that it’s verbatim from Toad.

I found this incident, and ones like it, merely amusing until fellow CaPC writer Alan Noble pointed out that his young daughter does the same thing — popping up with odd or poetic expressions straight from her stories. It got me thinking how much language development really happens when kids are staring at those pages, listening intently. For me, Frog and Toad make up a small (albeit enjoyable) part of my reading history, but for my toddler, they are characters more real to her than most people. Their lives and adventures give her a framework for a wider world she is just beginning to explore; their words craft the initial impressions she forms of many experiences. As Alan asserted, that means that not only the words but the content are critical for parents to consider, because our children borrow and own the words in the same way they own and borrow the books. Researchers also report that children and adults who read fiction develop a stronger sense of empathy, suggesting that books can teach us to read words as well as the human world around us with clarity and compassion.

These facts seem like more endorsements for reading as a family, so parents can mediate and explain the experience. And that intimate bond of reading doesn’t need to cease when children become independent readers. Parents can help kids navigate challenging texts or simply enjoy the story together the way that families used to do in the evenings around the fireplace. We even listen to Frog and Toad audio-books in the car; these days, there are so many well-written stories for children and young adults, that with a little steering, it seems possible to find narratives that everyone in the family can enjoy. Sharing the words and the worlds of reading opens up new doors for language development as well as family adventures. After all, in the words of American poet Emily Dickinson:

THERE is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

So select a book, and share it with your family, and bask in the wonder of words and the free travel available on your own shelves or at your local library.

1 Comment

  1. Great encouragement, Erin! As one who also loves to read and be surrounded by books, I can’t help but wonder how much of what I say could be traced back to books I’ve read. Wouldn’t that be a fascinating study?! To trace common phrases to their origins, to see how many were from books?

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