I remember sitting by a snow-blown window on Christmas break with a chapter book in my small hands, reading for hours. I remember treasuring the stories so much that I couldn’t imagine any greater joy than reading.
Now, a couple of decades later, nothing much has changed. I would still rather read a book than do almost anything else, except perhaps, share this love of reading with my kids. I’ve been so excited for my daughters to grow old enough that we could snuggle together with classic children’s literature that I’ve possessed an almost single-minded pursuit of novels.
I’ve made lists of stories to read-aloud together, in the hopes that the enjoyed experience would fuel their own literary pursuits. Little House on the Prairie, Peter Pan, The Indian in the Cupboard, Wizard of Oz, The Borrowers; the books I want to share with them are countless and wonderful.
Over the past year or so, we’ve begun making our way through a few of them, with varying levels of success. My six-year-old loved Peter Pan and Little House on the Prairie, but was a little flummoxed by Alice in Wonderland. (And who isn’t, really?) But in all of my enthusiasm, I may have jumped in just a little too quickly.
There have been times when I’d look over at the supposed-listener, only to find her playing with a toy instead of paying any attention to the story. Or, if she was listening intently, we had to stop a dozen times per page to clarify issues or words or motives. Those aren’t bad reasons to interrupt the reading, but they did tell me that maybe that particular book was a little beyond our comprehension level.
And the frustrating truth of busy lives: chapter books take time that we have to purposefully carve into our days. If we happened to miss a few days, it became harder and harder for my kindergartner to retain interest.
Sadly, we’ve slowly retreated from chapter books. Not entirely; we still attempt them, and we’ll choose them more and more as the kids grow. I know my kids will eventually be better able to digest the longer, more involved books. But my zealous love of the mighty chapter isn’t the most important part of our family story times.
As we’ve started choosing some of our old favorite picture books again, we’ve discovered hidden treasures. Not only can we read as a family, without the three-year-old becoming bored by the pictureless novels, but we can read in bulk. The variety keeps our kids interested, and isn’t that the point? To plant a love of stories in our kids that will carry them through to a love of reading? So we choose the books for younger children without feeling like we’re dropping the literary ball. These stories are just as helpful, if not more-so in some ways.
Since we have an early reader now, she’s able to look at the picture books and begin to actually read them. She knows many of them by heart and the pictures help give her clues for the more complicated words. She gains confidence with these simple books, sharpening her reader’s brain with practice and enthusiasm.
And I get to sit back and marvel at things like the passage of time and the wonder of learning and the joy of childhood.
We’re not abandoning picture books for chapter books, or vice versa. We’re embracing them all as vital parts of our reading adventure, and appreciating their treasures.