What is a friend? Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English language defines a friend as, “One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection, which lead him to desire his company.”
I can easily apply that definition as I make friends with books and I definitely seek to pass that friendship on to my own children.
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Living Book Characteristics
Charlotte Mason advocated the use of living books. We can define a living book by some of these characteristics:
- A book that has the power to say what would be said in such a way that we’re not likely to forget it. It becomes forged in the mind. This allows us to learn from it. “If we were not as blind as bats, we should long ago have discovered a truth very fully indicated in the Bible––that that which is once said with perfect fitness can never be said again, and becomes ever thereafter a living power in the world.” (Charlotte Mason, “Parents and Children” pg. 263)
- A literary work that is idea driven feeds the mind, allowing us to grow with it. “We do not mean by a book any printed matter in a binding, but a work possessing certain literary qualities able to bring that sensible delight to the reader which belongs to a literary word fitly spoken. It is a sad fact that we are losing our joy in literary form. We are in such haste to be instructed by facts or titillated by theories, that we have no leisure to linger over the mere putting of a thought. But this is our error, for words are mighty both to delight and to inspire.” (Charlotte Mason, “Parents and Children” pg. 263)
- A living book is full of virtue and inspires the reader, telling a story, and is often read time and again. The book can even be passed from parent to child. In our own home, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one such book.
How to Make Friends with Books
Making friends with books doesn’t always come easily. It’s a skill that sometimes has to be cultivated. It can take time to becomes friends with books, just like it can take time to becomes friends in real life. There are some books we pick up that become our immediate and instant pals, but with others we have to spend time getting to know them.
The Adventures of Pinocchio comes to mind as a recent book that took a little time for my ten-year-old and me to enjoy as a read-aloud. We persevered and by the halfway mark of the book we were not only enjoying it, but finding some pretty deep truths about character qualities like obedience, telling the truth, and considering decisions before jumping in.
So, keep in mind, it can take time to love reading – whether it’s a single book or the idea of reading in general. I find that a rich culture of reading aloud is the easiest way to breed a general love for books throughout the entire family.
Here are some read-aloud tips to help you get started:
- Make a plan to read and do it. (Include reading aloud and reading alone time each day.)
- Use a timer and start small. You can gradually add time to your reading.
- When reading aloud, don’t be afraid to let your children draw, build with LEGO blocks, or work on other handicrafts to keep their hands occupied.
- If your children are still young, start reading aloud now. Picture books are a great place to start.
- Enjoy audiobooks. Not only does mom or dad get a break from reading aloud, but audiobooks offer new voices, dialects, and even dramatic effects that can draw in more reluctant listeners. If your children have trouble sitting still for audiobooks at the house, try listening in the car.
- When transitioning from shorter books to longer ones like chapter books, adventures are a great place to start. Kids who beg to keep reading when you stop at places that leave them on the edge of their seats are kids who get hooked on books.
- Include a book or two as gifts each birthday and at Christmas to begin building a library. Books that are easily accessible become friends much more readily.
Final Reading Encouragement
In pursuing a friendship with books, and encouraging our children to do the same, we can become discouraged if we have a child who never learns to love reading. Or, you may be the one who can’t imagine loving books. I don’t want to leave you without some insight and encouragement.
A child who doesn’t love reading right away may adore reading later. One of my sons is a testament to this. He kinda-sorta enjoyed read-alouds when they were forced on him, but could truly take them or leave them. And, he rarely picked up a book on his own that wasn’t specifically assigned.
In his junior year of high school, something changed. He began enjoying the books I assigned and started having meaningful discussions with me about their plots and themes. Now that he’s a senior, he’s joyfully choosing books to read that interest and challenge him. Never give up!
A child who struggles to read can still love reading. Some children don’t enjoy reading because it’s hard. We must simply tailor our choices with understanding and grace. More read-alouds and audiobooks may greatly benefit the child who struggles with his own reading. Continue to delve into high-interest books with lots of depth as you read aloud, while slowing down the read-alone selections to the point where he feels successful.
You’ll need to plug along with phonics and reading instruction with the struggling reader. I love All About Reading and All About Spelling as a fundamental phonics programs. It may take some time, but keep working at it!
If *you* don’t love reading, fake it until you make it. Just as with our children, spending time with books as adults can help us become friends. And, practice makes perfect. At the very least don’t complain about reading or give constant voice to your dislike of it. I promise that your bad attitude will affect how your children view books.
If reading aloud really, really annoys you, though, pursue audiobooks or consider asking an older child or spouse to read aloud. Be part of the pursuit either way for the sake of your children.
Over the years, not only will you make friends with books, but the books will become dear friends. You’ll establish memories with these friends who will remain faithful and true.
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