Four Truths About Reading I Learned from My Children

by Susan Meissner

Photo credit: Hero Images, Hero Images/Getty Images

My husband and I settled on a nightly bedtime story ritual early in our parenting years with our first child. We were reading Pat the Bunny to our daughter Stephanie before she could even walk. The tradition continued with the three sons that followed, well into their elementary years. We wanted all four of our kids to love reading and to turn to books at bedtime, like we did, so that stories would be the last thing they engaged with before one day ended and another began. As they grew and my husband and I became less and less the ones who picked their books for them, I found myself learning about the individuality of each of our children by what they chose to read. All those trips to the library and shopping trips to the bookstore with Christmas gift cards showed me four truths about books as I watched my children make their reading choices.

1. Books Are Cuisine
Ravioli are not dim sum, and chateaubriand is not stroganoff, but all nourish the body. They offer different flavor takeaways, but they all still have the power to satisfy the palate. Not everyone is going to like the same dish, but surely there is a dish for everyone. We started out reading our kids the same Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman stories, but as they aged, each child developed a definite taste for the kind of book he or she liked. If they started a book and didn’t like it, they put it down and started another. I’ve adopted that approach and I’ve learned it’s okay. You don’t have to eat what you have tasted with an open mind and don’t enjoy. There are so many other things to eat.

2. Books Are Passports
Books have long been associated with mental traveling and for good reason. I love this quote by George R. R. Martin: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies … The man who never reads lives only one.” As we become adults and take on more and more responsibility, the times we are able to truly get away can become scarce, or at least not as frequent as we’d like. Seeing my kids’ books lying around the house was always a nice reminder that I am not tethered in my mind to the place where I am. A book is my ticket to Elsewhere, wherever that may be.

3. Books Are Mentors
We read aloud The Lord of the Rings to all our kids, and all of the Harry Potter books to our younger two sons, even when they were plenty old enough to read them on their own. They loved the display of good versus evil and the idea that good is worth fighting for, even dying for. The stories we love best are almost always about characters who went after something that truly mattered, though they faced hearty opposition, and who didn’t give up even when it looked like all hope was lost.

The real world can be a hard place. The books my husband and I read to our kids reminded me more than once that the good fight is worth the effort. It still is.

4. Books Are Companions
I’d like to say it’s because we read to our kids that they always had books in their rooms, on their bedside tables, and in their backpacks. They came to see books as friends, as loyal companions that simply don’t have the capability to betray you or let you down or choose someone else over you. I’ve found this is still true. What I wanted to instill deep within my kids I have come to realize is a happy arrangement for me as well. I am never alone if I have a book with me.

As I view the world these days from my empty nest, watching my adult children navigate their own skies and buy chubby board books for their own little ones, it is more clear to me than ever that life is a journey enhanced by what we take along to enjoy, inform, and influence the ride. Books, in all their shapes and styles, have made we travelers the richer, the wiser, the more grateful — and they always will.