Actual text recent text conversation between my son and I:
Kid: Do you know where the beekeeper book is
Is that the title?
Kid: The one with the old man
And he’s a beekeeper
But nobody likes him
And he goes on the journey and there's a dragon
This series of texts came on a Sunday night, amid all the usual texts of “where are you?” and “Don’t forget your curfew”. When I asked him the next day what prompted him to ask about this particular book he said “I was just thinking about it.” My son is 17 now. The last time I read that book to him he was maybe 7 or 8, 9 if I am being generous. And sometimes books do that. They leave a mark that stays with you. I remember standing in the lunch line in 5th grade, reading Bridge to Terabithia. I remember sitting in the spare bedroom of someone who was watching me because my mom couldn’t, reading Stuart Little. Long, boring bus trips home from my grandparents, reading Little House in the Big Woods. And on and on… books I will never forget. Books that, for just one moment, were there for me when nothing else was.
What creates that magical formula of printed ink and paper that results in an amalgam that stays with a person? Becomes something handed down from generation to generation, a cherished keepsake given as a gift to mark special occasions? The words, for sure, but also the illustrations. The images created to go with a story sometimes stay in our heads longer than the words themselves. I think it’s interesting that two of the books I mentioned above, Stuart Little and Little House In the Big Woods, were illustrated by the same person, Garth Williams, a prolific illustrator who during his life had illustrated more than 75 books, many featuring in my favorites list. The perfect combination of words and drawings creating an artistry that is remembered fondly for years to come.
Or not. The book my son was asking about, The Bee-Man of Orn, I had a copy when I was a child, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. I remember haltingly trying to read it to my mom who had said she was too tired to read to me, and I should read to her. But even after, for years, I would read that book to myself and wonder at the life of a man that gets re-written, he of the solitary beekeeping life, getting to start anew as a baby. After my son asked about this book, I went to go look for it, envisioning in my head the Sendak illustrations I remembered so dearly. Imagine my surprise to finally find it, but a different edition. Once I saw it, I remembered reading it,but it was clearly not the same. What was it then that had created that memorable synergy for my son?
My own investment. This was a story that meant something to me. Deeply. I believe that investment was translated when I read that story to my son, if only a few times, and thereby established a connection for him to that book. Something that he then recalled, years later.
All this to say-- If you want to create long lasting reading memories for the children you are reading to whether as a parent or a teacher, there are some key components. First, it helps to choose books that are beautifully written and illustrated. Take some time visiting your local bookstore or children's library and browse through the shelves. Look for books that first catch your eye, and then take some time to read the stories. Often I have come across books that are wonderfully illustrated, but the story is lacking. Or the story is riveting and the pictures are forgettable. And then secondly, and perhaps more importantly, choose books that mean something to you. A book from your own childhood, or one you remember reading on your own for the first time. The love that you have for that book will come across to the child you are reading to and be internalized as their own love of reading.