As a girl, I received discipline often for reading under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. I now understand my parents’ frustration with the fact that I wasn’t sleeping when I should have been. Even then I recognized reading under the covers after lights out was dreadfully naughty, but I just had to see what happened next in the tale spun on the pages before me.
In our house, books are normal, and reading is a habit. We joke that our home is well-insulated against Oklahoma’s scorching summer heat and frigid winter blasts by our library. My husband and I are both avid readers, and we aren’t very good at sending our paper friends and teachers away from our shelves when we are done with them. Our children have the same compulsion. The books they love are well-loved, and they don’t want to send them off. So, the books stay in the our household library, guarded by the dread dragon Draco (a beardie), when they aren’t being read in our house, unless they journey to be enjoyed by a friend.
I did teach each of these guys how to read, and they each became fluid readers around the time they turned eight. Reading is a skill that is usually taught, but the desire to read isn’t taught. It is caught. My bookworm husband and I read books to ourselves, to our boys, and sometimes to each other. We both tend to stash something to read near any spot we often occupy.
We want these boys to know that reading is a cozy activity that this family just does. They need to me to read with and to them, and they need to see me reading for and to myself. Even more so, they need to see their father reading, and it is awesome if he is willing to read aloud. My husband is not a fan of fiction, but he enjoys reading aloud histories or biographies or well-written science titles. It is covert bedtime education for all of us.
Often, we find a boy curled up in an odd space (like in a closet, under a table, or upside down on the couch) with a book, completely engulfed in story. “Children should have the joy of living in far lands, in other persons, in other times – a delightful double existence; and this joy they will find, for the most part, in their story books” (Mason, Home Education, 153). I’ve lived in Narnia, visited Rivendell, walked the moors of England, inhabited a garrett in London, and shivered in a little house on the prairie. My boys have lived in most of those places also, and we have visited some of them together.
Once in a while, a book drags one of us in and doesn’t let go when it ought. The freedom to roam literary lands is a treat that grows strong readers. Most characters don’t compel their audience to read far into the night, so these infrequent journeys are allowed. Even if it causes an occasional grumpy morning, the delight of immersion in another world is not to be missed.