Friday, April 3, 2009

The real power behind reading

I'd be hard-pressed to find a mother in this day and age who hasn't been told about the importance of reading to their children, and encouraging their children to read. My girls have been given assigned reading as part of their homework for most of their scholastic careers.

Readers of blogs probably don't need to be told the virtues of reading - we all do it every day. Reading, writing, and arithmetic: the very basic elements of a good education, right?

Maria Tatar's book, Enchanted Hunters: the power of stories in childhood, takes us beyond the basics of childhood reading, and explores how even the simplest stories told to our infants can impact our children in ways that I had maybe wondered about, but never quite been able to capture.

For instance, I've often wondered why the simplest of nursery rhymes and fairy tales have always had such a dark side - cradles falling, and other images of impending doom and death. Tatar explores the history of storytelling and why these images have long been associated with bedtime stories.

There is also a quite dense history of the imagery associated with mother and child reading in bed, but I found the book most interesting when it captured the essence of what makes certain fairy tales and long-beloved books so popular with our children.

She details why certain parts are purposely left vague in order to let our children's imaginations soar, and other images are more concrete to keep the young reader engaged. She defies the image of reading as a sedentary activity, and explains how reading about death is oddly comforting to these young, curious minds.

Tatar can get a little carried away, wanting to include nearly every supporting example ever written, and detailing almost every possibility - quite a feat in such a large field as children's literature - and her professorial style can be tedious at times, but overall, her passion for her subject shines through and I'd be unable to argue against her thesis.

I'll be referencing Enchanted Hunters often in the future when thinking about what books to purchase for the girls and what certain kinds of tales might offer them. It's not a book list by any means, but the themes are there to help me create those book lists.

The book offers a refreshing, inspiring and thought-provoking approach on how to help our young readers truly appreciate those nightly 20-30 minutes of reading homework!


Jen said...

There are some similar works out there. Storytelling has served so many functions over the centuries, and I think reading does in a similar way today.

I sure hope you're feeling better - You sounded awful in terms of over the weekend.

FreedomFirst said...

I'd have to agree. I think reading is a very important part of brain development, not because of the work involved but because of the imagination. Once my kids can read, I plan to make TV as rare a thing as possible. It takes away that imagination factor.

Florinda said...

Great review, and it sounds like there are some fascinating concepts here. I have a similar book waiting to be reviewed myself (next in the TBR stack).

I started reading to my son as soon as he could sit with me and look at the pictures - I think he was a year old. Bedtime reading was a ritual until he was school-aged. I'm a huge believer in reading to kids, and it can't start too early.

Natalie said...

That sounds very interesting, I might have to check it out as my son learns to read. It might help us choose the right things for him which will help translate into a love of reading.

Sorry, can't talk straight today.