I write and speak about picture books, and I have many friends and colleagues who love children’s literature. So when Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic’s “I’m Tired of Reading Out Loud to My Son, O.K.?” appeared at the New York Times’ website earlier this week, it made some noise in places like my Facebook news feed.
Lucianovic writes about how she dreads reading aloud to her son at night, discussing those books that she hides behind the bookshelf so that she can avoid yet another reading. Richard Scarry’s books, Goodnight Moon, Sylvia Plath’s The Bed Book, Curious George: She’s worn out.
She acknowledges that she will likely miss this one day, especially when her son’s older and no longer wants a parent to read books aloud to him. I believe her, and I’m not here to pick on her, even if reading aloud to my children is my favorite part of parenthood. There are parts of parenthood that feel like drudgery on the best days, no doubt about it. We do ourselves (and wannabe parents) a disservice when we act like parenthood is all sweet refrigerator art and snuggles ‘n’ hugs. To acknowledge the ennui of the daily grind doesn’t make us ingrates. It’s just honest.
And to each his own. Not everyone adores reading, and that’s okay. (Yes, I’m a librarian, and I just wrote that.) But her article brought three things to mind.
First, the books she names are decades old. It’s an exciting time in children’s literature now, and many exceptional novels and picture books are being published. Certainly there is a range of options since the publication of Goodnight Moon, books that, I dare say, this mother will enjoy reading aloud as much as her son might enjoy hearing them. Parents can consult an eager librarian and get some suggestions. If, after that, they’re still dreading read-alouds, so be it. But I’d be surprised if that were the case.
That begs the second question that came to my mind: How can those of us who write about new children’s books better get the word out to parents, especially those looking for read-alouds? It’s an ongoing question for those of us who write about new books: How can we stop just talking to ourselves and better reach parents who wander into a bookstore looking for something beyond what they read when they were kids? Every time I see articles similar to this, someone’s naming off old titles.
Lastly, I sometimes see teachers, librarians, school administrators and the like put great pressure on reading, making children think they have to love it. (Reading is magic. ACCEPT THE MAGIC. Or else.) Schools are slogan-happy, as Susan Dove Lempke has noted. (“Readers are leaders” is the worst of the lot; plenty of grown people, still living in their parents' basements, love reading way more than working.)
I sound like I’m getting off the point, but sidekick to such notions is the idea that if parents don’t read to their children a certain amount of time every day, they are bad parents. In her article, Lucianovic notes that she is filled with guilt. This cycle of pressure and guilt that starts in schools and extends to home is unfortunate.
I wish I had answers. Sometimes I wonder: Why the pressure? I have noticed this, though: In my experience, the slogan-happy folks in education often most loudly touting the benefits of reading are people who don’t often read as a hobby. My friends and colleagues who most love stories and books are too busy reading to give it just lip service. It’s my favorite teachers and librarians—who read to children and share the joy of literature as often as they can in their busy schedules, whether reading aloud or storytelling or sharing poetry—who eschew catchphrases and ridiculous, desperate attempts to get children to read. (The most painful I’ve seen is a principal who promised to kiss a dog on the lips if the students read so many books during a semester. This communicates to children that reading is a very onerous task.)
Roger Sutton once said it best when he wrote, “if you want to convince children of the power of books, don’t tell them stories are good. Tell them a good story.” There’s way too much of the former going on in contemporary education, and I suppose it is what fuels Lucianovic’s guilt.
If and when Lucianovic finds some great, new books, it’s even okay if she leaves her dust-covered Goodnight Moon behind thebookshelf, with all due respect to the late Margaret Wise Brown. There are some stellar books out there, published in recent years. I hope she gives them a go.
And I hope we all get to a place where, as former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jon Scieszka once said, we can relax—and stop tyrannizing children about reading in the schools.
I say just read them a good, new book instead.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.