If you love to read, chances are you were lucky enough to have someone who read to you early in your life. I remember how special it felt to cuddle up next to an adult and open the pages of a book and listen to the stories. Like Marco, the young fisherman in my favorite book, Dr. Seuss’s McElligot’s Pool, who gazed into the pool and imagined all sorts of
fabulous creatures, I felt like there was just no telling what you might find in in the pages of each new book.
Reading leads to a richer life, beyond imagination and entertainment. Children who are read to become skillful readers themselves. Skillful readers do better in school. In fact, if you want your children to do well on their SATs, make sure they read a lot. Even more basic, reading plays a crucial role in brain development and language skills. As I mentioned in a previous post about the children’s literacy program at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, studies show that low reading skill and poor health throughout life are clearly related.
Finally, the stories that we read at an early age connect us to each other, set the stage for our curiosity about other people, other places, and open us to the larger world. For children’s reading advocates it’s intuitive, but scientific studies have recently shown a link between reading and empathy. That’s why I’m excited that that Minneapolis author Kate DiCamillo has been named a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The author of Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux will work to raise awareness of issues related to reading and children’s literacy. She recently told the PBS NewsHour, “I want to remind people of the great and profound joy that can be found in stories, and that stories can connect us to each other, and that reading together changes everybody involved. …Story is what makes us human.”
But enough of the serious stuff. Children’s books are fun, even for adults. When I was in New York City in December, I got a chance to literally wander through the pages of several classic children’s books in a terrific exhibit at the New York Public Library. On display until March 23 their exhibit, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Book Matter” draws on the library’s collections to present literature for children and teens against a sweeping backdrop of history, the arts, popular culture, and technological change. They’ve created an Good Night Moon room, which was clearly a favorite with the young adults I saw
wandering the exhibit. According to NYPL, “The books and related objects on view reveal hidden historical contexts and connections and invite second looks and fresh discoveries. They suggest that books for young people have stories to tell us about ourselves, and are rarely as simple as they seem.”
If you’re in or around New York City anytime soon, the fabulous Morgan Library will feature The Little Prince: A New York Story January 24 through April 27. You can read more about the Morgan Library in my Literary Walking Tour of Midtown New York City and in Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Books Clubs and Girls on Getaways.
As W. H. Auden wisely observed: “There are no good books which are only for children.”