"A terrific book matters to us as human beings....If it has affected us profoundly, one way or another--to laughter or tears, horror or delight, disgust or dismay, fascination or fright." So writes Mem Fox in her incomparable "Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever."
But it's not the book alone that changes the lives of our children. It is the act of sharing and sharing completely, totally, and doing it with gusto and fun, with laughter and tears, horror and delight--well, she said that before.
But listen to this: "If every adult caring for a child read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to the children in their lives, we could probably wipe out illiteracy within one generation" (12). Now the scary part: "[T]he crucial connections that determine how clever, creative, and imaginative a child will be are already laid down by the time that child turns one" (14). Reading aloud to a child and engaging in conversation about the story does so many things: teaches words, values, ideas, concentration, problem solving, self-expression, thought.
Fox tells us that children need to hear a thousand stories read aloud before they learn to read for themselves. That's three stories a day for one year, not counting the three years or more prior to school. Ideally those three stories should be one favorite book, one familiar book, and one new book. She avidly advocates reading the same favorite book over and over to teach the rhythm and structure of language. Read it until the child reads it.
The most important reason we should read regularly to our children is to meet the most important reason of all: children need to know above all that they are loved by their parents. Reading as little as 15 minutes a day will create this bond of talking and sharing that creates this language bond.
My favorite story Fox tells is this one concerning her own child Chloe (Note: the Foxes are Australian). During a picnic before her mum had unpacked the picnic basket, Chloe asked about the "afters" (dessert). Mum replied they had to eat first. "Well, one must sustain oneself," she said in a six-year-old huff.
I laughed and laughed at that. Reading together creates a private family bond, the Foxes from Winnie the Pooh, source of the sustaining line. Chloe's father, on occasion, had eaten all the chocolate and responded with "Well, one must sustain oneself" line. Chloe picked it up, knowing its meaning and its source.
Fox includes so much important information, including how to read aloud: Body position, using our eyes and facial expressions, making that eye contact, using vocal variety, and general animation. Reading aloud is an art form!
She gives three secrets concerning the magic of reading: print, language, and general knowledge and how to make the three come together. What does she think of phonics? Her chapter title says it all: "Phokissing on Fonix." Her special chapter on Boys and Reading explains the utter necessity of a father reading to his children.
Bottom line: This is a fantastic manual in learning how to read aloud, what to read aloud, why to read aloud, but above all--to read aloud, interact, share, discuss, enjoy!
Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)
- *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- The Odd Women by George Gissing
- The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
- How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
- The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
- In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
- *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
- The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
- Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
- Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
- Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
- The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
- Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
- Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
- *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
- A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
- Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
- *Ruined by Paula Morris
- Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
- Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
- Silence by Shusaku Endo
- *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
- Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
- *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
- Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
- *The Giver by Lois Lowery
- *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski