I am a book nerd. I have been a book nerd for as long as I can remember. When I was five, my most treasured possession wasn’t my Marie Osmond doll that my sisters and I used to fight over and my brother ruined by cutting her hair; it was a Babar book that my parents gave me for Christmas that year. I still have it, and I pull it out on special occasions and read it to my kids.
One of my happiest memories of my Mom involves her digging a musty box filled with Nancy Drew books–that she read as a little girl–out of the creepy (think Psycho or Jane Eyre) fourth-floor attic of our Victorian home on the outskirts of Louisville, KY.
Mom carried the tattered cardboard box down the rickety attic stairs and set it carefully on the floor of my bedroom. I was lying on my bed, reading, and when I heard the one-hundred-year-old floorboards creak, usually a signal that my jerky older brother was on the prowl, I looked up. As one of four kids, I was used to entertaining myself. Visits from parents usually meant you were in trouble.
Mom was almost smiling; smiles were saved for grownups, so I knew something was up. She was a tall woman, something that frustrated me because I was really short for my age, and her height made the box look small and vulnerable. Her long, black hair was pulled up in her everyday chignon, and she was wearing one of the four or five pair of well-worn plaid wool bellbottoms she owned. She was fidgeting with her fingers, standing next to the box. We weren’t a touchy, feely family, and she was clearly uncomfortable. “These were mine when I was a little girl. I thought you might want them.”
I got up, curious, and began rifling through the pungent box that smelled strangely intoxicating, and a little like my Nana’s old-lady perfume. She went on, “I know how much you love reading.” There was that almost smile again. “I kept these. Thought you might like them. It’s Nancy Drew.” The memory turns fuzzy after that like most do. But I remember reading every single book in the box and then checking out more at my school’s library.
I’m not going to claim that reading Nancy Drew charted a new course in my young life or even suggest that you should have your children read the series. What I’m trying to get at is really simple. Sharing and reading books with your kids, at any age, is worth the time and effort. In addition to the copious research about how reading with your children makes them smarter and more successful, reading with your kids is a shared experience unlike any other. It’s an opportunity to unplug and connect emotionally and intellectually. It’s a legacy.
My Mom passed away ten years ago, and my children never knew her. When I pull out my childhood copy of The Story of Babar: the Little Elephant and read it to my kids, I’m sharing a small piece of the grandmother they never met. I’m sharing my lifelong love of reading with them too. While I wouldn’t call my kids book nerds yet, at six and eight they have a healthy respect for the written word. And reading books together is one of our favorite past times. I’m going to do my best to make sure that doesn’t change.
Challenge: Read with your kids (even if they’re high schoolers) at least once this week. It can be anything — book, magazine, newspaper, The Onion, whatever. Make it fun. Read out loud. You don’t need to spend forever. Even twenty minutes makes a difference. You’ll be glad you did.