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THROUGH MY DAUGHTERS’ EYES Learning to Appreciate Reading All Over Again
The other night, my wife and I had just put our girls down for bed. It had been a really busy day for the entire family, but we still managed to get through all the steps of our nightly bedtime routine — well, almost completely through it. Just as Laura and I started the process of getting ourselves ready for bed, my youngest daughter’s voice echoed throughout the house, “WE DIDN’T READ MY BOOK!” We’ve been reading to her before bed since she was born, and in the four and a half years since, she literally can’t go to sleep without hearing at least three stories. After a really long day, when she was younger, I would tuck her in bed and watch her slowly close her eyes. I’d swear she was asleep, but then she popped up like a zombie, demanding that I read “Freight Train,” a short, simple book with trains, shapes, and colors that she had deemed the literary holy grail. Both of my kids love to read now, but it didn’t start out that way. When my eldest daughter was 1, her favorite activity was ripping the pages out of books. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the stories; she just thought the pages were much more interesting on the floor than inside the book. Now her take on reading is the complete opposite. In fact, on her last day of first grade a few months ago, she read the last chapter of “Charlotte’s Web” to me before bed. In first grade and already reading “Charlotte’s Web?!” It’s amazing!
Through reading to my girls at night, I’ve often thought about my first experiences reading. As adults, we’ve already trained our brains to recognize words on a page and then string them together to make sense of their meaning. You’re doing it right now, in fact, and you aren’t even thinking about it; it’s just happening. But watching my girls memorize common articles and conjunctions like “the,” “a,” “an,” “and,” “but,” and “so,” I can’t help but be in awe of how miraculously the human brain functions and how unbelievable it is that we can read in the effortless and facile way that we do as adults. It wasn’t always that way for me, though. I remember learning to read in the first grade — not the complex books my eldest daughter is now reading — but I didn’t actually take an interest until I was in third grade. That interest continued to grow all the way through high school, when I had the audacity to sign up for AP English. I’ve always been more drawn to math and science, but, since I had an affinity for reading, I thought AP English would fuel my enjoyment. The teacher, Mr. D., was great. Had a very tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and managed to teach me a lot about literary analysis despite some of my frustrations at the time. In fact, I didn’t realize how much the material from that class stuck with me until I was in my 20s and trying to find a book in the
airport. I picked George Orwell’s “1984,” a dystopian science fiction narrative exploring omnipresent government surveillance that also happened to be on my reading list back in that high school class. Had I not spent that year studying imagery, allegory, and symbolism, I wouldn’t have understood “1984” in the manner Orwell intended. I read a study recently which indicated that over a quarter of Americans admit to not having read a book in any format in the last 12 months. While I would never chastise people for refusing to participate in a pastime they don’t enjoy, I do want to encourage them to reconsider. Even rereading an old favorite can offer a fresh perspective.
–Kyle Matthews 1 (248) 543-0340janetdaviscleaners.com
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