Guest Post: Reading to Escape by Steve Light
‘Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it.’ — Maurice Sendak
I think the gift of reading is really a gift we give children to help them escape the harsh realities of the real world. Being a child is hard. The world is a scary place, but by reading a book or being read to, children have a window to another existence. The story inside a book may be scarier, and that just makes their world feel safer. The realm inside a book may be a delightful escape, giving a reprieve from their own lives.
I had trouble learning to read as a child.
I would much rather “read” the pictures and make up my own stories. My family was not the most functional of families. I was aware of a lot of things as a child that I was too young to understand. So I would make up stories to make sense of these events.
Drawing became a way of “writing down” my stories. I could create stories around characters I invented, my favorite being a little bird that could fly away to any magical land.
My sister would tell me stories. She would recap books she had read. Big adult books. Scary stories by Stephen King and V. C. Andrews. Stories I was really too young to hear, but loved hearing. My dad used to tell me stories he made up while we were driving someplace. Stories about robot cars and magical bunnies. These stories made me want to learn to read, so I could discover these great escapes called books.
One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was moving the World Book Encyclopedia into my room.
Every night I would pull down a volume and look at the pictures, wishing I could read all the information inside. There were volumes called Childcraft that had fairy tales and beautiful illustrations that I would pour over. I would create stories around these pictures and live in these worlds I controlled. They offered an escape from the complicated world of my childhood.
All of these instances when I was not actually reading prepared me for the gift of reading. I longed to know what the words said in the World Book Encyclopedia, I wanted to read the stories my big sister and protector read, and I wanted to write down the stories my father told me so I could read them over and over.
The gift of reading is a pressure valve alleviating the stresses of childhood so many children have.
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