In a community of readers, the dialogue will occasionally drift to “do you remember learning to read?”
I don’t. I have an early memory of sitting on the floor in the bedroom at my grandmother’s house turning the pages of The Poky Little Puppy. I remember the illustrations. I don’t remember the words.
Do you remember the first person who read a book out loud to you? Do you have strong images of the sounds, feelings, smells? The hands holding the book?
I don’t. In fact, I can’t ever remember having someone read a book to me.
This isn’t the result of an old-age memory … I’ve tried over the years to remember these things and I’ve never been able to pull up an early recollection of reading.
At this moment in time, the discussions in the community of readers are filled with worry about e-books and apps. Some are accepting that e-books will not mean the end of books but the broadening of access. Others are concerned about the experience of reading a picture book to a toddler. Will children still become readers if books become digital? Will the absence of that tactile bonding time of a book and a baby and a warm, loving lap mean that children won’t grow up to become readers?
I often read a book a day. I cannot get in the car without taking a book along with me, “just in case.” There is a book with a bookmark in it in every room of our house, “just in case.” (You never know when you might be trapped in the sewing room with five minutes of unscheduled time.) My reserve list at the library has 79 books on it. (What if they all come in at the same time?) I pack for a two-day trip by taking along at least six books. (You never know.)
And yet I don’t remember the experience of having someone read to me. I’m not certain that anyone ever did.
What I do remember is that the people around me were readers.
Grandpa read four newspapers from cover-to-cover: the Minneapolis Tribune (the daily evening paper was delivered to us in northwestern Wisconsin), the Rice Lake Chronicle (the weekly news in my hometown), the Glenwood Tribune (the weekly news from his hometown), and the Canova Herald (the weekly news from my grandmother’s hometown). He had a second-grade education because he was the oldest of ten children and they needed his help on the farm. He was fluent in two languages, could add and subtract numbers faster than a calculator, and could build anything out of wood, including bridges, houses, churches, and furniture. I never saw him read a book but not a day went by that I didn’t see him reading a newspaper for several hours.
Grandma read the hometown newspapers, too, but I usually saw her reading women’s magazines: Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens, crocheting magazines, and the Reader’s Digest. She liked true-to-life stories about people and animals and children.
My mother was the reader of books. She belonged to the Book of the Month Club and the Literary Guild and the Readers’ Digest Book Club. I remember seeing her read To Kill a Mockingbird (a horrifying prospect to my six-year-old brain) and Appointment in Samarra. She read a book every night when she went to bed, no matter how tired she was. She had her father build bookshelves, something that no other member of our large and extended family had in their houses.
I don’t remember being read to, but the people around me were readers. Tactile or digital, children will still absorb the pleasures of reading when the people around them read.