Monday, August 16, 2010

Bring on the books, finally!

We started reading to our older children regularly while they were still young enough to slobber all over the board-book pages. We were determined to instill in them a love of reading.
And it worked.
Both older kids are avid readers and reading helps keep us close to each of them. At ages 10 and almost 9, they still insist that we each snuggle with them in their beds at night and read aloud. When we leave their rooms, they read on their own, often falling asleep with books clenched in their hands or draped over their faces or chests.
It didn't work out that way with Matthew and Jonathan.
And, until recently, I felt we had failed them in that regard.
From birth, Jonathan and Matthew were both highly active and addicted to motion. Books were for throwing and chewing. Lap time was for bouncing and rocking. They were not attracted to pages decorated with bright images or fuzzy rabbit fur or flaps that flipped to reveal surprises.
Add to their physical intensity the stress of raising two older children, one with issues that required a great deal of our emotional and physical attention, and I found that my efforts to intrigue them with books were slipping. It became easier and easier to say, "I'll read to them tomorrow."
And too often, I made the same promise to myself the next day.
Over time, we learned that they would pay attention to books that they could act out with us dramatically and loudly. If we could howl, stomp, clap, yelp, jump or twist and shout, they were happy. So that's what we did. It was fun. Lots of fun. But exhausting.
We still read only every other day or so and rarely before bed. Nighttime reading got them too excited and left us drained.
But then I discovered Thomas board books.
That was our breakthrough.
Jonathan and Matthew are devout fans of Thomas the Tank Engine, so when I found a few books at the grocery store about a year ago, they couldn't get enough of them. Over and over, we read about Thomas and the judge who lost her hat, about the crack in the track, about the race with Bertie the Bus.
Little by little, we added non-train books to their reading list until they were finally taking in many of the same classics that our older children had loved.
It was wonderful except for a couple of things: Matthew and Jonathan had to be in precisely the right mood, we had to read to them separately to avoid physically dangerous book wars, and they had no desire to read at bedtime.
Good enough, I figured.
Some kids just aren't that into it and that was something I would have to accept.
But then something happened just a few short weeks ago.
I was unpacking boxes from our recent move and looking for something different to read when I stumbled across Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. It was too long for them, I figured, and the pictures were not likely to capture their attention, but it was worth a shot.
I was stunned.
We read it nine times that day without a single argument.
So I reached into the bin and pulled out a few more books that I had categorized as above their interest level and, to my surprise, they listened. They listened eagerly, intently and without argument. They begged me to read those same books over and over again. And they sifted through the books themselves, finding even more that captured their interest.
They evolved into different children.
On the same day, at the same time, with the same book as their trigger.
The same boys who once simultaneously shredded two copies of Mr. Brown Can Moo now follow us around with books begging for reading time. They grab books and lie on the floor with them pretending to read as they flip through the pages. They fall asleep with books in their hands, books that they have strained to "read" by their night light.
And the best part?
They no longer argue when they sit together on my lap for a story.
They seem to have declared a truce.
A truce because they are finally in love with reading.