By the time my older son was four months old, he would sit on my lap, point at images he enjoyed, and help turn the pages of the board books we’d read together. At this age he was a stormy, intensely-observant little person already passionately opposed to doctor’s offices, food stores, malls, elevators, escalators, cribs, playpens, sitting still, quiet, music, bright lights, nail clippers, solitude, crowds, darkness, clothing tags, naps, and loud-noises-that-were-not-trains. Book time was just about the only peaceable time we had each day that did not involve either somebody lactating or Johnson’s Baby Shampoo.
Through the seemingly endless parade of meltdowns that framed a period that most children just SLEEP THROUGH, I discovered that we could usually reconnect and calm down with a book. The increasingly ill-named diaper bag rarely contained actual diapers, wipes, or changes of clothing…but as God is my witness: I knew better than to leave home without the entire Thomas the Tank Engine oeuvre in board-book form by the time this child was on rice cereal.
Sometimes now I think there was a Darwinian purpose to my son’s behavior. Because today that baby is 15 years old, almost six feet tall, perfectly capable of reading to himself, and actually working on his own novel–and yet I still read to him and his brother most evenings. It is, after all this time, still the point in the day when I know we can all calm down and reconnect. The cats know it, too. They pad upstairs most nights and curl up into contented loaf-shapes on one bed or the other to listen along, eyes closed, purring intermittently.
I have read all seven of the Harry Potter books aloud to my children, with different voices for each character (it is a point of no small pride in our home that each of us can do reasonably proficient Cockney, Irish, London, Cornish, and Scottish accents, on demand), as well as a great many favorites from my own childhood: fairy tales, nonsense poetry, stories of magic and fantasy…
Initially, my goal was to entertain and intrigue: Aren’t books wonderful? Don’t you want more? Do you hear that delicious no-one-screaming sound? But somewhere along the way, as my sons got older, I wanted something else from the books we read. I wanted inspiration.