Tony Vagneur: Wrap your kids in the warmth of a good book, no matter the topic
It’s a relatively simple thing, reading a story to a young child. We know the words, the thoughts being conveyed, what the story means. We know. The young child doesn’t know that he or she is getting an early gaze into a world of infinite descriptions, possibilities, feelings and other criteria too numerous to mention that will last a lifetime.
Wait, on a basic level, the young child does know. Magic things live within books; that’s why children make books part of their important possessions, the things they carry from room to room, the things they try to improve with their early attempts at writing.
Ah, there you have it — reading and writing! Try to visualize it, what came first? One can’t exist without the other. At some point, the idea of expressing words in some form of writing became important, or we could say, invented. It goes back a long way, likely to the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, which on a linear scale comes out somewhere around 2500 BC. Some people claim to have been Aspen locals about that long.
Scholars argue that is about how long recorded history has existed, but they apparently miss the petroglyphs of Winnemucca Lake in northwestern Nevada. Those rock-carved stories were being told somewhere around 8000 to 7000 BC. My partner, Margaret, and I have spent days and countless hours looking for and admiring those petroglyphs and pictographs that give a window into the soul of the people living in those times. But they have their limitations — they are difficult to interpret and, as far as we know, they didn’t evolve into the modern writing that we know today.
At first, just symbols, representing thoughts and ideas that were relatively common to people of the day, and that those people associated with familiar events, were carved in stone. As civilizations changed, so did the method of communicating the ideas that could be written down. The petroglyphs and pictographs of very early cuneiform writing naturally metamorphosized into hieroglyphics, which, like the spread of a novel coronavirus, took off like wildfire, ever evolving until today, you’re reading this column.
It’s difficult to remember what my feelings were when reading first became important on a personal level, but from seventh through 12th grade, I hardly ever opened a relative textbook but rather holed up in my room reading books of poetry, encyclopedias, adventure books and other tomes from my dad’s small library. Those were the days when people gave you books as thank you gifts or birthday presents and I had a nice collection. Much of that reading got me through high school and a good chunk of college, as well.
As an adolescent, on those rainy weekend ranch afternoons when work was difficult, my dad and I would retire to the living room after lunch, each of us taking a subject we were interested in and would then read through every reference to the subject on our two sets of encyclopedias and other research books. Then we’d trade.
Imagine the accomplishment a young child must feel, when at 6 he asks his mother if he can read the bedtime story, and picks a book neither of them has read before. He does it — he knows how — all 27 pages; he’s crossed a tremendous divide that he will never look back on. The mother’s eyes never teared up, of that I’m certain, but I didn’t ask.
It’s important to remember the significance of making reading enjoyable for your children. When they’re teenagers, and if necessary, you will still be able to ground them, to take away their car keys, to establish a curfew. But no matter how good you are as a parent, you will never be able to make them read a book if they don’t want to.
Years ago, in a Perry Mason moment, a 26-year-old witness on the stand was asked if he had read a non-existent letter I was alleged to have written. “Yessir,” was the reply. Then our attorney asked him to read a short paragraph from another letter someone had written. Only then was it revealed that the witness couldn’t read. What a tragedy for a young man.
If nothing else, a book provides an escape for all of us, a chance to experience someone else’s life for a short time. It expands our horizons, improves our storytelling, and for youngsters (and everyone), it improves vocabulary and writing skills. And fiction or not, we will undoubtedly learn something that we were curious about or hadn’t thought of before.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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