1 SEPTEMBER 2008
Reading to children
The ingenuous behavior of children captured in the vignettes reminded me of Scout, the six-year-old daughter of attorney Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. The teacher asked Scout to read the alphabet on the first day of school; when she had done this without a hitch, she read the First Reader and then the stock market quotations from the local newspaper. Scout says she never deliberately learned to read but that she wallowed in the printed word.
I could not remember when the lines above Atticus's moving finger separated into words, but I had stared at them all the evenings in my memory, listening to the news of the day, Bills To Be Enacted into Laws, the diaries of Lorenzo Dow – anything Atticus happened to be reading when I crawled into his lap every night. Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.
Atticus Finch was a single parent; Scout's mother had died when she was two. He drew his daughter into the routine activity of reading the newspaper just as many of the parents described in this book draw their children into storybook reading at odd moments in odd places. Here there are single parents, working parents, tired fathers and mothers, multiple siblings, hectic schedules, and family crises. Whatever the circumstances, family storybook reading goes on.
The authors examine everyday language of families engaged in storybook sharing to show us that fundamental lessons are instilled in wholesome ways during natural activities. The parents they observe are totally unaware of the research that undergirds their action; they read books with their children for the sheer pleasure it brings and the close relationships it binds among their loved ones. When parents read to their children, they do not deliberately set out to give language lessons. Nonetheless, all kinds of lessons about language do occur. Strickland and Taylor highlight the lessons that are bound into the talk surrounding book sharing.
Children who do not hear stories will have fewer reasons for wanting to learn to read. Those who have stories read to them will become readers and inevitably will become parents who read to their own children. It is a family legacy to be passed on to the next generation. Family storybook reading could break the cycle of the crippling inheritance of illiteracy that plagues many families. Siblings, day-care workers, caregivers, or surrogate parents who read aloud could instill in children some of the fundamental love of story that grows from hearing them. This would have a lasting effect on each generation that follows. The authors show us where to start by giving us some of the tried-and-true storybook winners they have found successful. They show us how an uncomplicated act has lasting effects.
Cullinan, B. (1986) Foreword to Taylor,D. and
Strickland,D. Family Storybook Reading. Portsmouth: Heinemann pp