The Power of Books

Stephanie Grandestaff Road Maps

My name is Kyle, I’m a librarian, a dad, and soon to be Charlee’s husband. My son (5) and her two daughters (5 & 3) blend into our family of three kids and a rascally rescued hound named Radar. Books have played a major role in our family from the very beginning. Charlee and I met at the library. We got to know each other by discussing books we’ve read, authors we both liked, and suggesting future reads. So, it should be no surprise that we both place a high value on reading to our kids.

I started reading to my son as soon as he was born. As an infant, he was just a captive audience who couldn’t even hold up his own head let alone run away from me clumsily reading Maurice Sendak for the tenth time (Where the Wild Things Are is still one of my favorite books). I read to him so young because exposing kids to books, even as infants, familiarizes them with voices and even begins to build the structures for syntax in their rapidly developing brains. As he got older he loved being read to so much that I became captive to his insatiable hunger to read Green Eggs and Ham by Doctor Seuss for the tenth straight night.

Story time is among the most precious moments spent with my son. It is bonding time. It is virtually the only time during the day that he slows down enough to tolerate being snuggled. Throughout all of the familial transitions we faced, books and reading together at bedtime were a constant source of reassurance and comfort for both of us. Every night we read together was a lesson for both us that our relationship was stable and reliable regardless of the changes in our family structure.

While I was getting to know my new daughters, I thought it was important to give them room and let them come to me. At first there was a lot of the discerning glances and giggling games of peek-a-boo from their hiding spot behind Charlee’s knees. Several stages followed including the you-may-give-us-candy stage; the you-may-sit-next-to-us-with-food stage; and the you-may-swing-us stage. All positive steps, and I was delighted at each step the girls’ took with me. However, it was a huge milestone for me when they crawled into my lap clutching their favorite books and asked me to read to them. I knew that indicated a new level of trust and acceptance.

Equally monumental was the first time that the five of us sat crumpled in a pile on the floor as a family to read together before bed. Some nights the sibling conflict is just too real. On those nights we read separately, and that’s okay, but as often as possible we all get together and read at night before bed. We do it because we want to feed their curiosity about reading, we want to support their future success, and, most of all, we do it because it is time devoted to bonding our new family together. The kids get to know each other discussing each others’ favorite characters and theorizing about what will happen next. They grow closer and more comfortable with each other as they smush together and share our laps to see the illustrations.

We have also learned that books can unlock our kids from their anxieties. Our son did not adapt well to day care, so before he started kindergarten summer school this fall we checked out The Pigeon has to Go to School! by Mo Willems from the library. Every night for three weeks it was his favorite book at our house and summer school became less of an anxiety trigger for him. After a particularly grueling weekend of sibling bickering, tattling, and tears, Charlee brought home Even Superheroes have Bad Days by Shelly Becker. The kids enjoy playing superheroes together, and the book illustrates that superheroes have bad days too and what they do to process different emotions. Obviously, it wasn’t an instant panacea, but it gave us a framework in which to talk to the kids at their level about emotions like anger and sadness.

Books are a skeleton key that unlock doors and empower children to be more successful. Reading to children and having age-appropriate books in the house are the most important factors in assuring healthy language development and determining future academic success. Regularly reading to your children is also time spent nurturing and showing them affection. There is literally no downside to the time you spend with your children and books. If you don’t believe me, check out “FiftyTop Literacy Statistics” at ferstreaders.org. They’ve dug through all of the child literacy studies for you and compiled a truly eye-opening list of reasons to read to your children.

Kyle Evans is dad to three and reference associate for the Springfield-Greene County Library District