By: Sandy Churchill
For avid readers, few delights rival those of a glossy, hard-cover treasure, tightly-bound, its feathery pages still smelling faintly of fresh ink…
The pleasures of a good story are multiplied when that story is shared—be it an intriguing mystery, compelling drama, or sci-fi adventure. In our family, where bookcases reside in nearly every room in the house, books are perhaps our greatest “vice.” Barnes & Noble is our youngest child’s favorite store, we visit the library several days a week, and we make frequent jaunts to author signings and other literary events.
While learning to read represents perhaps the greatest life-altering, door-opening pathway in a child’s education, many families abandon the practice of reading bedtime stories or engaging in other read-alouds once the child has mastered phonics. But one of the most special experiences to the human spirit is sharing a great story—and embarking on that story, together, like a brave and valiant quest.
That’s how stories began—shared around campfires, and passed down orally from one generation to the next. The tradition holds no less charm and magic today, even for the busy family. Perhaps during a school vacation or a weekly “reading night” a read-aloud adventure might offer a new and enjoyable kind of family entertainment.
From the Harry Potter series to Theodore Boone books to Encyclopedia Brown mysteries or the Guardians of Ga’hoole adventures, our family has cozied up around many a campfire to embark on the magical, wonderful journeys of fictional heroes. The practice began many years ago, with the likes of Goodnight Moon, Dr. Seuss’ The Foot Book, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Amelia Bedelia, and many Disney princesses.
The practice of an enjoyable story-sharing experience requires just three universal components: a willing reader, an enthusiastic audience, and a compelling story. The reader can be mom or dad, an older child, a grandparent, or a sitter, and your audience can be the remaining family members—tots to teens to retirees. The story should have enough adventure to draw listeners in and keep them coming back to find out what happens next. Great recommendations often come from other parents and friends, book reviews, and your local library.
A similar experience can be found in audiobooks. Once available only in limited form on tape, options now abound in CD and MP3 format, and they free up your reader to drive, fold laundry, or simply relax and share in the story adventure. When our children were smaller and money was even tighter in the budget, we’d often pack the kids in the car and drive to the beach or some other peaceful location and play a story in the car. This same strategy still entertains our family on longer car trips, including several-hour jaunts to go camping in Maine, treks to visit relatives in New Jersey, and even a 24-hour drive to Florida.
Stories bond generations and encourage literacy, expanded vocabulary, and the development of personal empathy. In an age of high unemployment and ubiquitous financial woes, reading remains one of the best bargains in our culture today. You need not buy the book if it’s not feasible. Just make the trip to your local library, which is networked to dozens of other sites thanks to technology. You have the added benefit of making memories together as a family, sharing stories day by day, week by week, in the glory of firelight outdoors or in the soft glow of home on a relaxing evening. The books and memories are with us as we join in the adventure of the moment and forget about homework, bills, daily conflict, or distressing events on the news. Stories are what truly bring people together.