“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” Jorge Luis Borges
I’m with Jorge. Only in my case, it’ll be a library with Michelin quality food and table service. To those who know me, this is no surprise. My first word was cookie and my second was book; my priorities haven’t shifted since I slept in a crib.
I adore books. And, when I had kids, I assumed they’d share my passion. How could they not? I’m of the ‘children are made readers on the laps of their parents’ school. I also figured they’d share my love of food and have the easy-going disposition of their father.
Well, one out of three isn’t bad. We all do love to eat.
My daughter was captivated by books when very young. My son, not so much. For a long time, Zach only read books about fire trucks. Then came books about dinosaurs, sea creatures and cops, and only if I pushed him to sit down with me. But a story? Even a short one? Forgetaboutit. Zach had no time for a fictional world.
Until the summer of his fifth birthday. We were spending a week at the beach. Taking a bag of books (this was a few years before e books) was de rigueur. Having reached the end of the cops cycle, I didn’t know what to take for Zach.
My husband did. He went out and bought a couple of Pokemon comic type books. One didn’t even have a story – just a creature per page, in bright detail, with the names spelled normally and phonetically. The second was an actual story, but heavy on the kid-friendly graphics. We gave the first book to Zach on the drive, hoping the pictures would hold his interest until we arrived.
They held his interest and more. By the end of that week, Zach was reading. As happy as that made me, I was more thrilled by the shift in his attitude. He was interested in stories. And he wanted more.
Mostly, for what seemed like years, he wanted more Pokemon. At the same time, my daughter went through a Babysitter’s Club book phase. When you’re a recognized writer checking armloads of Babysitter’s Club and Pokemon out of the library on a weekly basis, you’re awarded strange looks. Criticism also came from teachers and well-meaning friends who were appalled that I’d let my children read ‘such trash.’
For a while, I thought they were right. I went back to encouraging the kids to read books I deemed ‘appropriate.’ That worked about as well as getting them to clean their rooms. In other words, it didn’t.
Then my husband told me why he bought those Pokemon books in the first place. When he was a kid, his parents allowed only the classics in the house. In high school, more classics. For some kids that might have worked, but it didn’t for him. It was only years later, when he stumbled across an Isaac Asimov novel, that his love of reading began.
His words woke me up. Love. Of reading. I’d forgotten the very thing I wanted most for my kids. I wanted them to have a lifelong passion for books, to experience the joy that reading brings.
I set aside some snobbisms and grew up that day. My kids have grown up too. They no longer wear diapers, spit food, read Pokemon or the Babysitter’s Club. Right now Zach’s on a Paulo Coelho kick. My daughter has three books on the go, including a literary thriller that’s keeping her awake at night.
Raising one child who was born loving books and another who had to be led to them, taught me a few things. I learned that ultimately reading itself is what counts. That reading for pleasure may be as important as reading for information. That fire trucks and little boys go together, that Pokemon and the Babysitter’s Club eventually fade, but that the love of a good story, whatever form it takes, endures.
Now please pass the cookies. My book is waiting.