Gratuitous childrearing advice? I can't help but give it, especially when I meet somebody with a new kid, or one on the way. My mantra? In two words, Read aloud.

It doesn't matter much what you read to a child, but do it often --- daily or almost so. Start in the earliest weeks of infancy (though it's literally never too late to begin). Build those associations between symbols and sounds and stories, between books and ideas and entertainment. Let your baby hear the enjoyment you feel when reading. Do silly voices for the characters. Drop out of the text to offer parenthetical asides, explanations of obscure words, and parental commentary (e.g., "This is bad behavior; don't you dare do it!"). Edit out inappropriate material; this is your performance of the work, your interpretation, not a slavish transcription. Make reading a part of family life, like eating and sleeping.

And as long as you're investing the time, pick books that you and the kid(s) will be proud to recall reading together. Go to the library and check out classics that you never got around to when you were growing up. Dust off your own juvenile favorites from the basement bookshelves. Choose something long and difficult, and turn it into a serial, 10-20 minute episodes every evening for a month or more. Recap the situation with an "As you remember last time ..." synopsis, and end the segment with a quick peek ahead at what's going to come next.

And be flexible. If a story isn't working, can it and go on to something better. Mix in short fiction with long novels, humor with nonfiction discussions of nature, history, biography, or other topics.

Specifics? Every child and every parent is different, so our experience may not be appropriate for others. In brief, we started out with little books, like Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad series of gentle zen-like parables. Eventually we worked up to full-length works that took weeks or months to do. A sampling of memorable examples:

On the flip side, some things simply didn't work. The Three Musketeers, for instance, seemed pointless; we eventually gave it up. Several modern books (mercifully unnamed here) had unæsthetic violence or raunchiness which I preferred not to get into. (Over the years I've done most of the reading; PD typically sings bedtime songs. My vocal range is limited, but perhaps I've improved with practice.)

We've wound down the readings in recent months, with our eldest gone off to college and the twins almost 17 years old. But maybe we'll have a chance to start again someday, as Peter Falk did in the delightful movie framing device for The Princess Bride....

TopicLiterature - TopicPersonalHistory - 2002-03-20

Ah, The Princess Bride was indeed a delightfully framed story. -- Bo Leuf

(correlates: RatTales, CodeOfTheWoosters, SubtopicTolkien, ...)