Guest Post: Stories First by Lindsay Eagar
I was fortunate to come from a family that kept a library of books in the home — I have early memories of waking up while the house was still quiet, taking a stack of books with me to the space heater, reading near its warmth until it was time for school.
I read Bartholomew Cubbins. I read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. I read Trouble with Trolls. I swung in the trees with Max in Where the Wild Things Are; I wove at the loom with Annie in Annie and the Old One; I shook my head at Big Anthony’s foolishness in Strega Nona.
I grew older and my appetite for books grew with me. I wanted more. Thicker tomes, more pages, more books, more, more. I read Wayside School. I read about the Quimby girls. I read The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963. I read encyclopedias of mythologies; I read fairy tales. I read Holes.
When I reflect back on my upbringing, it is books I remember, from first words to high school and beyond.
And so when I became a parent myself, I anticipated my daughter’s reading years with a certain giddiness. I would introduce her to all of them, I thought.
My daughter did love to be read to, even from an early age. But preschool came and went, and she had little grasp of the alphabet or knowledge of how to put together words herself. Then kindergarten. The first half of first grade.
“Come read Goodnight Moon to me!” I’d implore, and later, I’d bribe: “If you learn to read, you can get your ears pierced!” Nothing worked.
She would let me read to her (for hours, even), she would carry around books and copy words from them and make up her own versions of the stories based on the pictures, she listened to audiobooks nightly and memorized whole sections of Harry Potter by heart — but she would not read.
Her reading scores didn’t budge, and I began to seriously worry, and on a particularly selfish level — I was an author! What would people think of my daughter, a child swimming in words and sentences and books, refusing to read? Would my child be one who did not like books? Who sneered at them like I sneered at pickled beets?
It wasn’t a book that changed her stubborn mind about reading; it was a story.
I’d recently read Lucy Clifford’s The New Mother, a Victorian bedtime story for children, and retold it to my daughter, who is a lover of all things that are magical and creepy ’round the edges. I watched her eyes light up, watched her gasp, watched the goosebumps break out along her arms as I told her about Blue Eyes and the Turkey and the strange woman with the drum and the mother’s weary warnings against naughtiness. I watched her reaction when the new mother plodded up the road with her wooden tail rattling, and a kind of calm settled over me —
It wasn’t books I grew up loving. I was a child of story.
I loved story in book form, yes, but also in comics — my beloved Calvin & Hobbes collections were read to shreds. I loved story in film — many a time my siblings and I reenacted favorite scenes from Willow and Hook and every Disney movie. I loved story in song, in ballet, in poem, and in the dramatic retellings of Tolkien my father gave on special nights before bed.
I loved story. And so did my daughter.
And eventually, as soon as I stopped the pleading and prodding to please, please, learn to read . . . she did.
One day she picked up a copy of Dog Man, and the next week she was reading Pippi Longstocking.
We love to obsess over numbers in America, over the ways in which we can measure our children’s brilliance and goodness — look here, we say, at how many books my child can read. Look here at how their reading levels soar, at how many pages they can tackle in a school year. We sometimes forget that books are vessels for the thing that we humans crave most of all, the oldest, most important thing we do as a species —
I told my daughter a simple story — nothing “educational,” nothing with a sneaky moral or a parable for her life. Just a way to pass a car ride and perhaps give her the shivers for the rest of the day — and it opened a doorway into the world of books.
Now if I could just get her to turn off her lamp, put the book away, and go to bed already.
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