Better Read Than Real

We Blocksma children were frequently treated to stories and poems spun for our young ears by any one of our family grown-ups. Mother’s voice was the most frequently heard, reading books to us aloud. Mother did not hesitate to take on whole novels—the longer the better—a chapter at a time. Dewey, Andy, Marty and I sat wide-eyed at her feet, hanging on every word as our narrator’s voice lifted the characters from the page and set them on the stage of our imaginations. We lived those stories and adored our heroes who came so swiftly and safely to life. Despite our pleas for more, Mother always stopped much too soon, leaving our imaginary friends firmly fixed within volume’s covers, until the next release.

We loved all the books my mother read to us: Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, Little Women, Brer Rabbit, Black Beauty, The Wind in the Willows, the Greek myths, The White Buffalo, to name a few. I never felt too old to be read to, even when, early on, I could have sped through any of the books by myself. Our almost daily readings felt unusually intimate. I don’t remember sitting in my mother’s lap, but II felt as if I were, her voice holding me like arms as I drifted into the story of the day.

Reading books aloud may have been the best gift my mother ever gave me. At age ten I wrote my first poem: It was about snow, which I could not remember ever having seen, inspired by Hans Brinker’s icy play. I began reading to my son Dylan before he was born. He got used to the sound of my voice, I think, for I gained a patient listener when I gained a son. When he was about two and developing imaginative bedtime postponements, I began ending each day with the promise of a story as soon as he was in his pajamas. Bedtimes became a cozy half an hour we could always count on. I read him mountains of books we at first took turns choosing from the rich collection at Laramie’s public library of which I happened to be the director. My becoming a librarian was one of the thirty-six ways that books, since childhood, have plotted my life.

I know no more painless, intimate, irresistible way to prepare a child for a life of learning and independence than an early and diverse menu of books. Dylan never became the bookworm I was as a child—at the age of nine he sold his dirt bike to buy a computer and has been under its spell ever since. Still, he imagines wildly, ventures courageously, reads with pleasure and writes with grace, inherited in part from a thousand and one tellers of tales who first showered their words on me.

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