The music is gone. Now, when we ride anywhere with our 3-year-old daughter, Addie, she doesn’t want to hear any of her favorite songs.
She just wants stories now. The tales either center on a train or a monkey. My wife and I make up the stories with our daughter adding frequent embellishments. And the world is a pretty tough place for a character in a 3-year-old’s mind. The monkey, George, will never get his way. He will always get multiple shots in the arm at the doctor’s office. His leg will always be broken. The only ice cream he will ever enjoy is broccoli flavored.
My daughter always wants the story to go on. “Then, what did George say after the skunk jumped into his car?”
Admittedly, after a while, we’ll get pretty tired of the telling. We’ll just want some quiet time, a more restful drive.
But I know, even as I long for a reprieve at times, that I will miss these days of constant storytelling. I will miss the days of pop-up books and of short children’s stories before bed. I will miss the natural innocence that comes with early childhood and the hard laughter over simple surprise.
My wife and I take turns reading to Addie, though she clearly prefers her mama for the evening ritual. And I enjoy hearing their laughter from her room before the lights go out.
I often think of the many toys in the house as the tools of a trade. Her imagination is at work. It’s like she’s got a ticket to punch each day, with hours spent on the floor in imaginary conversations between plastic or fur figures.
I feel like it’s important to keep that young mind engaged in positive ways. I look at all the books in her room. And I think about her struggle to make sense of things. I want her to feel that books are valuable and fun, that they are necessary in her life. These are tools to sharpen your mind.
My parents encouraged me to read, too. But I remember another distinct feeling, the idea that books were just a weight on my back, something to sling aside after school was out. Some children associate books with a confined feeling. Unfortunately, some adults never shake that feeling. They don’t see the value in reading and they don’t encourage it in their kids.
But there is a great freedom in the pages. There is an escape from the everyday troubles. When the writing is done well, somebody can really pull you into another world. You can see things through the eyes of others. You can travel in time. You can learn new skills. The more you invest in reading, the more you have in your own mental library.
In the age of the Internet and quick-hit news, books often take a back seat. But just as fast food is no substitute for a good, homecooked meal, our chicken nuggets of information are no replacement for the sit-down meal of a book, where the mind can really explore.
The Rotary Club of Madison County is again urging the community to support its efforts to get books into the hands of every youngster under the age of 5 in the county. And the county commissioners, at the request of the Rotary Club, recently signed a proclamation recognizing May as “Literacy Action Month” in Madison County.
Encouraging early childhood reading is a worthwhile endeavor, which serves both kids and their parents. The community is made better whenever another child is engaged in a positive way, whenever an active imagination takes root in the wide world of books.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.