Parenting, Bonding, and Reading Aloud by Jenny Houlroyd
To my dearest daughter,
I was deceived to believe that the answers to my parenting questions could be found in the non-fiction section of any bookstore. My analytical mind wanted to solve each problem like a complex scientific experiment. This method worked in the beginning. When you cried, I made a hypothesis and tested it. Did you need your diaper changed? Were you hungry? Did you need to be burped? As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, my ability to correctly project the outcome improved. I really believed that I had nailed this parenting thing.
As you grew, your “Whys” sent me running to the reference isle of the library in search of answers to questions ranging from how many people live in China to why are there different types of clouds. I still found the answers in the non-fiction section, but these books cannot answers the questions of the heart. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry taught me that the most beautiful things in the world can only be felt with the heart.
I want to help you find the answers to the questions, but you have also made a horrifying discovery. You have discovered the world can be mean and cruel. You have watched hearts break as family members have died. You have witnessed the debilitating effect cancer has had on your grandfather’s mind and body. You have let the darkness surround you when facing bullies on the playground. I have caught you watching the news, seeing you look on in disbelief at the countless tragedies- murders, abductions, and natural disasters ripping apart families and communities.
The truth is this- the world can be an incredibly dark place to live. As a parent, I don’t want to admit that fact to you. You are only eight. I want to protect you from this darkness. I understand that you are scared, and so we read. Recently, we read The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, and I found myself shouting, “Yes!” when we read, “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
For you, my daughter, I want to make light. The books we have read together each night have helped us break out of the darkness and find light again. Over these books, we found worlds well beyond those that we could ever afford to travel, putting them within our reach. We have laughed and cried together, bonding over Harry Potter, Junie B. Jones, Stuart Little, Matilda, the BFG, and Ramona Quimby. The emotional bonding that reading together has developed is something I never expected, but I have grown to rely on reading as the compass that resets my heart at the end of each day.
Reading stories with you has also built a bridge, allowing me to discuss difficult topics- suffering and pain, love and despair- emotions that feel awkward and forced without a book as our guide. As Charles Dickens wrote in Great Expectations, “Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” I know that traveling on this journey with you has certainly bent me into a better shape, a shape that dreams of new possibilities, of hope.
This hope grows in my hearts each time we open a book together. This time spent together lets me ted to the constant growth of thistles that prop up in your mind throughout the day. And I know from reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “Where you tend a rose my lad, a thistle cannot grow.” Which indeed, my dear daughter, I know you will grow into a beautiful rose.
For these reasons, I have learned from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “When in doubt, go to the library.” Yes, indeed. When I am in doubt, I go to the library. I hope that you understand that as your parent, I do not have all the answers, but we have Kate DiCamillo, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, E. B. White, Lewis Carroll, Beverly Cleary, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Dav Pilkey, Nick Bruel, C.S. Lewis, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and so many more authors we have yet to meet.
Love you always,
Jenny Leigh Houlroyd is a faculty research scientist by day and a children’s book reader by night. She enjoys discovering wizzpoppers, wild things, and wonder through children’s books with her two children. She lives in Marietta, Georgia with her husband, two girls, and their dog Mangus. She spends her days running, knitting, reading, and enjoying time with family. You can find Jenny on Twitter at @booksbabiesbows or on her blog: www.booksbabiesandbows.com.
Beautiful post, Jenny!
Thank you for this beautiful post. We had similar experiences with our children, and those are definitely treasured memories. Then school happened.
It’s heart-breaking to see what some schools and teachers do to students who enter their classrooms with a love of books and reading. I’ll never forget the day I picked up our third-grade daughter from school and she asked, “What is literature?” I said, “It’s mostly just stories that are written down.” She said, “Well, we had literature tests all day today, and I don’t think I like it.”
For the most part, her school reading experiences have been unappealing. During freshman year, she was assigned Romeo and Juliet as an independent reading project with no classroom discussion culminating in a multiple-choice test while the same class spent three weeks in class on Of Mice and Men. With our help, she survived it, and she’s still a thriving reader in high school.
Imagine what happens to kids who don’t have deep reading support at home.
You have created a profoundly important groundwork for your daughter that will serve her well if her school language arts experience turns into something counter-productive.
I am so sorry that your daughter had such an unfortunate experience with “literature” at her school. I have been lucky so far that her teachers assign only an amount of time to read and leave the choice of book up to the child. I don’t know how this will continue through the years, but I hope you are right that support at home will help to continue her love of books. (I also think if she ever falls out of favor with books, I will just leave books around the house and tell her she is not allowed to read them because they are too grown-up for her. I think with her personality that will work.)
Your daughter is lucky to have a mom like you. Beautiful post.
Thank you Lucy. Your comment made me smile.
This is so lovely! I just stopped teaching second and third graders in order to stay at home for a bit with my own children, and I simply can’t wait until my toddler is old enough to read Roald Dahl and Kate DiCamillo with me!
There are also some great new-ish books out lately; based on these books, and as a random person you don’t know :), I highly recommend The Giants and the Joneses by Julia Donaldson, Operation Redwood by S.Terrell French, and, maybe next year/ fourth grade, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. These are all books I’m saving for my 22- month old. 🙂
What great recommendations! I haven’t read The Giants and the Joneses or Operation Redwood. I will have to check those out for us to read together. I do completely agree with Wonder! I have that tucked away for her to read in a year or two. That book is wonderful. Your 22-month old is lucky to have such a stacked library waiting for her.
I loved this! Thank you
Thank you Molly!
This is really lovely.
Thank you so much.
Thank you for a beautiful post!
Ah, such joy in tending roses. With children (of all ages). Through the pages of books, books, books.
Isn’t tending to those roses such a constant struggle? Doing so with books makes it so much more enjoyable.
Love this line from your post, “…reading as the compass that resets my heart at the end of each day.” Thanks for your wise words. Off to share on FB!
Thank you Ramona! And thanks for sharing.
This is indeed a great piece
I adore this. I have an almost 4 year-old boy, and I hope that our pre-bedtime reading ritual continues on so that we can dig into great chapter books like the ones you mention in your post. The world can be so dark and sad, we have to take every opportunity we can to create light for our kids. I had to share this on Facebook too. Thanks for writing this.
Beautiful relationship with books! Your daughter is lucky…
Reblogged this on engaging readers and commented:
Jenny offers us a wonderful window into the ways that sharing stories with her daughter provides opportunities for conversation and for making sense of that which is hard to make sense of in our world.
It feels so true. As we accumulate a shared repertoire of stories, the words, rhythms, characters, problems, and themes climb into our lives. In my house, we often quote Peggy Rathman, author Ten Minutes Till Bedtime, as we scurry around getting ready for bedtime ourselves. We embody Mercy Watson as we indulge in “toast with a great deal of butter on it”, and we take on the voice of the peddler as shake our fingers at eachother and say, “You monkeys, you…” The ways in which our books come to life in our daily interactions brings humor and lightness to otherwise frustrating or uninspired times.
What a beautiful letter, and a beautiful sentiment. It’s one of the bright spots of children’s literature that the light is taken so seriously. This seems less common in adult literature, which seems to be more celebrated for its darkness than its hope.
Absolutely lovely and true – I have a daughter and I’m sending this post along to her. Thanks for posting it.
This is an amazing post! I recently read The Tale of Despereaux, and I was shocked at how beautiful of a book it was. I found a used copy for a $1 at a bookstore, and I had to buy it because if that book encouraged me, I know one day it can encourage my kids when they face a “dark” situation. Thank you for such an amazing post! I recently wrote a post about how reading Gone with the Wind and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn inspired me when faced with difficult situations.
Your gift of the written word with all its intent has left an sweet impression on all that know you! Thank you for being such a beautiful person who sees with heartfelt imagination .