During this month-long celebration of love, let us talk about the love of reading and writing.
I ask my graduate students each semester to reflect upon their love of language as fostered during childhood. Many speak to parents, but, in many instances this duty was relegated to librarians, teachers, or even siblings. Instilling the specific love of language and literacy within a youngster ALWAYS requires an adult (whether on a one-time, infrequent, or frequent basis) relating closely with the child, no matter the relationship status! I would compare it to the smell of our grandmother’s cookies baking. Just as we remember so much about family gatherings in our childhood as a result of this scent (striving to recreate such scenarios within our own families when grown), so babies and children remember the gentle touch and hug associated with lap time reading, as well as the sound of their parent or caretaker’s voice. This sensual memory transfers to the love of reading a book individually, too – the reader cherishing that sense of comfort, wisdom, and tonal infliction as is, while reading silently, found in the author’s voice and message. Certainly, each and every child deserves such experiences in their “mother” tongue (studies in Kenya have found that children need to learn to read in their native language first, not English).
Second, to instill a love for language within our children, parents, librarians, educators, and other caregivers must ALWAYS place the right book in the right hand. Referencing my students again, their memories include that specific book which touched their heart like no other. Because of that one book, they looked for similar books, and, then, branched out one differing subject or genre at a time thereafter, climbing the stair steps of intellectual complexity. Sometimes, it was a parent that introduced that right book to the reader, but more often than not it was a librarian or an educator who expertly “read” their students literary interests!
Without reading, of course, we have no writers! I think of the biological concept of osmosis. When we read, we gradually assimilate the ability to use language in a way which conveys thought, emotion, and knowledge to others, in effect transferring one cell of thought, and then another and another, to a separate being entirely! Basically, the love of writing might be compared to the decision to practice empathetic or altruistic behavior – the desire to share what is good and right and helpful and life-affirming with a fellow human being!
What magic – this love we profess and share with our young ones, students, patrons, and emerging literates!