why we read to children

Katie reads to our grand-daughter Elena.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
― Madeleine L’Engle

I’ve argued that we should read to our children, but I haven’t said why. This post is about that.

One reason, of course, is that it is good for their brain. Unlike TV and movies, when you read to a kid they have to fill in the pictures in their head. This is good, for their imagination and for their intelligence.

And reading together is also a relational thing. It is what laps were made for. There is something profoundly intimate about sharing stories with children we love, even with teens. (Or spouses for that matter.) It is a shared journey, with shared laughter and suspense. It is the basis of private jokes and veiled allusions, all richer than the ones that come from the movies we watch together.

Like movies, books open doors to new lands and new ideas. But books especially open doors to new conversations, not just about what will happen next but why and to what end.  And you can have these conversations in the moment.  One of the great benefits of reading together is slowing down to do it.

Of course, virtue is embedded in the old books, before Disney turns them into fairy tales. (I like fairy tales, by the way, but they can be over-simplified. And of course, once visualized we lose the ability to picture them ourselves.) For these reasons, and more, reading together was a corner-stone of our family life and we raised a generation of readers. We read as a family, Katie and I both read to the kids, the kids read to each other. And now ten grandkids are being blessed by books.

Reading out loud taught our kids new words. It made them better writers and speakers, tuned as they are to the rhythms and the flow of language. But more than that, it introduced them to new worlds — before they had to face them in person. I like that in a book.

Redwall. Across Five Aprils. Narnia. Pilgrim’s Progress. A Wrinkle in Time. Poetry. Goodness and evil. Justice and mercy. Grace and redemption. It’s all there.

This is good for kids.

It’s good for all of us.


Be sure to read The Great Gift of Reading Aloud by Wall Street Journal children’s book editor Meghan Gurdon.

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