Long before they learn to read, children need to be taught to love reading and books.
They need to hold them in their chubby hands. Turn the pages one by one. Point to each word as it’s read aloud. Marvel at every illustration. And maybe chew a bit on the cover.
What else are books for, if not to be “devoured” by readers of every age, young and old alike?
My parents divorced when I was 2, and my mother worked long hours as a waitress, leaving her little money or time to spend on “luxuries” like books.
Lucky for me, I was doted on by two of the best grandmothers who ever dipped snuff.
Make no mistake. Doting is different from spoiling. Spoiling spoils. Doting heals. My grandmothers taught me all sorts of things, but mostly they showed me how to be a good, doting grandmother, the kind I hope that I’ve become.
My mother’s mother taught me how to tell a story that makes people want to sit up and listen; feed a houseful of family without going broke; and cheat at cards without getting caught.
My dad’s mother taught me how to love mountains and songbirds and autumn leaves and a big hunk of buttered cornbread; how to wade across a swollen creek without falling in; how to love books and reading and best of all, how to read on my own, before I started school.
I wish you could’ve seen my teacher’s eyes the first day of first grade (we didn’t have kindergarten back then) when she realized I could read almost as well as she could teach.
Children need to feel good at something. I came from people who worked hard, but had little. I wore secondhand shoes, often had no money to buy lunch, and never felt pretty. But thanks to my grandmother, I could read like a house on fire.
In third grade, my teacher asked me to represent our class in the school’s reading contest. She gave me a book to practice for the competition. It was “Blueberries for Sal,” by Robert McCloskey, a story about a little girl who goes berry picking with her mama and meets a mama bear and her cub.
I learned it by heart. The night of the contest, I took a deep breath and looked out on a great assembly of parents, teachers and total strangers. Then I read, “One day, Little Sal went with her mother to Blueberry Hill....”
I won that contest. But more important, I discovered how it felt to reach out with words and hold a roomful of people in the palm of my hand.
My grandson, Wiley, is 7 years old. He takes turns with his siblings and cousins sleeping over at our house. Every time it’s his turn, he always asks me to read “Blueberries for Sal.”
Hearing him laugh his sweet laugh in all the right places is even better than reading to a whole roomful of people.
I wish you could hear him.
The last time he was here, he asked to take “Blueberries for Sal” home with him. He has tons of books at his house. I wanted this one to be special. So I said, “I think I’d like to keep it here for us to read together.”
He seemed to understand. But after he left, I thought about it some more. Since the pandemic, my husband has read most every day over the phone to his granddaughter, who lives too far away to visit often. Reading has created a bond between them that they’ll never forget—not what they read, but the time they’ve spent reading together.
“Blueberries for Sal” will always be special to Wiley and me for the memories it holds for us, no matter whose bookshelf it sits on. So I bought a copy for Wiley’s house, and will keep one here for when he visits.
Children need books to treasure, to read on their own and with someone they love, as a way to understand themselves, each other and the world.
Few gifts mean more to a child than a good book and a doting grandparent who’ll gladly take the time to read it together.
Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or at www.sharonrandall.com.