Reading to children

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I noticed this post over at bookninja today. A short one, all about reading to children. Apparently, only 3% of fathers read to their children, compared to 89% of mothers. The statistics could be wrong, there appears to be no more information than that, and I'm not quite sure what they're measuring (read to their children every night, once a week, ever ... ?). Being a writer and a lifelong book lover, I've read to T from birth. It never occurred to me not to read to her, really. It is only recently, though, that I've started to notice she is really starting to understand the stories we read. We've been reading some longer books recently ("chapter books" in T-parlance), a chapter every night over a week or two, and it is lovely being able to discuss the simple plots with her before and after the night's chapter.

We just finished Fairy Dust and The Quest for the Egg, beautifully illustrated and a nice story that didn't play too heavily on its Disney origins.

T was also lucky enough to be given a copy of Bob the Builder and the Elves signed by the author, Emily Rodda, and we are now embarking on that story too (while giving me a great opportunity to bang on about how valuable some books can be).

Of course, the question is, where do we go next? Well, Mothers for Women's Lib to the rescue! They've found the Amelia Bloomer Project which is a US list of books suitable for children, all with a strong female character. Not just any females, though:
We need not just cardboard “feisty” or “spunky” female characters, but tales of girls and women who have broken barriers and fought to change their situations and their environment.

Wheeee! I'm off to start my Amazon shopping list, who's coming?

Why is it that finding books and toys that are gender neutral (not just feminist) is so difficult? T got given a bag of lollies at her birthday party on the weekend, and it contained a chocolate with Batman on the wrapper. Naturally, it was in blues and blacks. She holds it up and says "Look, it's got Batman on it, Mum". I respond with "Cool" or whatever other non-committal monosyllable I chose to employ, since I was busy with the massive cleanup. T, in the meantime, is obviously studying this and pipes up with "why is Batman always wearing black clothes?". Well, good question, I think. I half-heartedly suggest that perhaps Batman should try a brighter outfit sometime. T agrees, adding her opinion that Batman should consider pink and purple. Of course, his crime-fighting potential might be harmed, but would it threaten his masculinity? Naturally, things don't have to be pink to appeal to girls, but this goes further than that. T is a huge fan of the Pixar movie Cars, but have you ever tried to buy a Cars winter jacket in the girls' section at Target? For that matter, have you ever tried to buy a winter jacket in the girls' section at Target that didn't feature faux fur trim? Take my advice, head straight to the boys' department. I'm hoping that by doing so, I'm at least proving to my daughter that there's no rule that says you can't wear 'boys' clothes, or play with 'boys' toys, or - heaven forfend! - use 'boy' colours in your colouring-in.

The moral of the story? Find positive role-models for your little girls, don't fall prey to the gender segregation of consumer culture, and always - always - debrief your children on the way things actually are, not the way the media portrays them to be.


Fiona said...

We (speech paths) are always going on abotu the importance of readinmg to kids - even when they start reading themselves. So many parents STOP readng to their kids once it becomes the home reader at night, forgetting that kids needs stories that extend them also.

ACT librarie now have downloadable "books on tape" so that even if the idea of reading is tedious (particularly if you're going for novels for older kids) it can still be done and shared.


Loquacity said...

Hi Fiona, thanks for stopping by!

I have to agree with you. What I find interesting is that parents have to be cajoled into it. I love reading to T, and the best bit is watching her grow up through her understanding of the stories, the changing array of books we read, and the conversations we have about them.

In the past (before we started reading "chapter books" quite so much), we would 'read' a picture book - Pamela Allan, Mem Fox, Eric Carle, etc - and I would point to the words and get her to read the predictable bits.

One night she called me, very late, from her father's place, in tears. When I asked her what was wrong she chokes out, "Daddy won't read me a s-story. He says it's t-too l-l-laaate!" (this last a wail). I can only imagine that he did so in the end just to get her to go to sleep ;) It did make me realise though that, even though to me it's just one of those things that we do together (albeit an enjoyable one, from my perspective), it's an amazingly important one to her. Woe betide anyone who stands in the way of her story!

Loquacity said...

Er, the single quote marks should have been on the second "read" in that paragraph, not the first!

That'll teach me to proofread what I write!

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