Read to Them‘s family literacy programs are grounded on a simple, ambitious premise: read a high quality chapter book at home with your family and as an entire school. In a perfect world, a family gathers together and each member listens to every page together. No one misses a word.
But life isn’t perfect.
As eager as we are for our thousands of participating families and schools to read a wide-range of challenging titles, we also recognize that the most important aspect of all this is the sharing. That’s right, the sharing.
Not your favorite line or your favorite character. Not “Have you read this part?!” Or “Read that part again!” Those discoveries are vitally important. It’s why we read together in the first place. To create memories. To transmit culture – stories, lessons, morals, and style.
But even more important is the simple act of being together and sharing the text – and the moment and the choice details – together. So you both know them. So you can both refer to them. (“Remember that time when you read…”) So you both know that text, that title, that chapter, that moment, that line is something that’s now a part of both of you. It’s something you share.
Our Director of Programs, Bruce Coffey, was reminded of this central truth in a recent conversation with a professional colleague. The colleague came to the Read to Them office to talk about writing and graphics and the future. But, as Coffey notes, she is also a mother, so naturally they talked about books, too. Two of her children were reading ripe Read to Them titles – The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate) and the incomparable Wonder (R.J. Palacio).
“Such a conversation naturally turns me into a reading evangelist, but I can’t subject every person who crosses the Read to Them threshold to that kind of enthusiastic pressure,” Coffey says. “I wanted to ask, ‘Are you reading the books together? Have you read them, too? Do you know what’s in them? What does your daughter think of Ruby? Or Auggie’s helmet?’ But I didn’t.”
Coffey recalls that his colleague acknowledged that one of her daughters found Wonder confusing.
“I suspected that that might be because of R.J. Palacio’s magnificent technique of switching narrators and perspectives,” Coffeymuses. “Magnificent to me, perhaps, but maybe not for each and every inexperienced reader. I sensed my opening.”
He went and pulled Wonder off the shelf and they talked about how the book is organized. About how the perspective changes from Auggie to his sister, Violet, and then to Jack, Will, and even to Violet’s boyfriend, Justin. And then Coffey gently suggested they might try reading it together.
A day later Coffey received a highly professional email, with a memorable addendum:
“On a totally separate note, I read Wonder with my daughter out loud last night. We read the ‘Summer’ chapter together….alternating pages. When we were done, she said, ‘I understand it so much better when we both read it out loud.’ Thanks for the advice!”
This simple, elemental truth is what lies at the heart of family literacy. It’s why we at Read to Them work so tirelessly to promote families reading together in the hopes of children blossoming into lifelong readers. It doesn’t matter if Coffey’s colleague started from the beginning. It doesn’t matter if she reads the whole book with her daughter. All that matters is the sharing and the creation of shared magic through a book– one they won’t likely forget.
Even middle schoolers and their parents can still share stories together! Both are likely starved for such moments. So we invite them both – teenager and parent – to consider sharing a character or scene, a chapter or line from your book together. Show what you think is cool or memorable – sad or funny – or unforgettable. What’s worth sharing, worth remembering. Bring it up when you’re on a walk or doing a chore. You can even offer to read while on a trip or the sliver of downtime that follows a meal. The when doesn’t matter, either, so long as you’re sharing with someone you love.
Remember: We all have memorable moments we are probably eager for others to know about. To connect with. All that matters is the sharing.