John Wilkin is Dean of Libraries and Maria Bonn is a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Their son, Nick Bonn, is a 5th grader at Booker T. Washington Elementary School.
John: Reading is a big part of our family culture. We’ve joshed with both of our kids that the family rule is that they must play a sport (even badly), play an instrument (even badly), and read a bunch. And provided they do that, we’re inclined to be fairly forgiving on most other things. So it’s probably not surprising that we read aloud together most evenings.
Now I should clarify for a moment that my daughter is 19 and off at college, so she’s no longer a part of our ritual. Nick, our son, on the other hand, is 10 and is deeply committed to our nightly communal reading. Nick is a voracious reader of sprawling fantasy novels. His school backpack is always stuffed with several books (and sometimes a Kindle), each several hundred pages long, and it’s often the case that he’s reading several simultaneously. Nick looks forward to this very performative nightly family reading event, and so I asked him if he would join me in writing a few words for the blog:
Nick: When we read together it is a time when we forget our troubles and go into a world of words. It is a time when all we do is read to each other. For instance right now we are reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. The whole context of that book/trilogy is just about the world of books. We kind of go into a state like that but less real. You’ve probably heard the saying “books are magical. ” You’re readers for heaven’s sake. It is true, they have their own kind of magic swirling about them. Right now I am reading a book called Fablehaven. It is teeming with magic. But I believe books have more magic when read in a family that just wants to admire the story.
John (again): I suspect there’s a viewpoint that holds that there’s an age at which a kid is too old for reading aloud, but I’m fairly sure I haven’t reached that age yet. I don’t really recall whether Naomi might have decided that she was too old to be read to, but I’d wager that the primary reason we stopped the nightly reading with Naomi was that it got to be too much with high school homework, piano, track or cross-country, and everything else going on in her life. It’s always been great fun for us, and I have no doubt that, especially for the kids, hearing unfamiliar words—words you may not know how to pronounce when reading them, words you’re hearing in context in a meaningful way—helps build all sorts of cognition. And, as Nick noted, it’s an incredibly important shared experience.
Maria: I’ve spent my life as a voracious reader, first riding the tide of books into a PhD in English literature and then into a life as librarian. My parents did NOT read to me once I had learned to read to myself, but I insisted on sharing my favorite books with them, often reading aloud to my mother after school as she worked away at her sewing machine. Having another opportunity to share those stories with my children (hello again Chronicles of Narnia and Chronicles of Llyr!) has been one of the great pleasures of parenting. And before we became readers with our children, John and long ago started a Sunday morning ritual, that continues today, of battling for air time to read the “best stories” from the Sunday NY Times to each other over the breakfast table. (“Can I bug you?” “Er, yeah?” “Listen to this!”) Several years ago, I suffered a life threatening injury that rendered me unconscious for days. As I drifted back to the surface of life, what washed over me were the voices of my family reading me stories. First John and Naomi and then five year old Nick who was just learning the art of forming words out of letters. When I was released from the hospital, weeks later, part of my welcome home as to have a book placed in my hands so I could read aloud and really “be back.” That too was a kind of magic.