As I helped to move box after box of books into my son’s new apartment, I had one overriding thought.
I did this to myself.
When Jake was but an infant, the experts encouraged us to read to him.
“It doesn’t matter what you read,” they said. “Just read.”
And so we did.
Before he could even hold his head up, Jake lay on my lap and listened intently as I read the stock listings.
Every night before he went to sleep, his mom would read “Good Night, Moon.” It became such a habit that she could recite the words without even opening the book. The story had a magical effect, and Jake soon came to recognize what was coming.
“Not ‘Good Night, Moon,’” he’d protest. “I don’t want to go to sleep.”
We read such perennial favorites as “Go, Dog, Go” and, of course, the many works of Dr. Suess – “Cat in the Hat,” “Green Eggs and Ham,” “The Butter Battle Book,” “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” and many more.
We read the poems of the great Shel Silverstein. Gems like “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out.”
Before long, we graduated to longer books. Things like the Hardy Boys Mysteries where we might end up reading two or three chapters a night.
Frank and Joe Hardy had some exciting adventures, and the end of a chapter often found one or both boys facing great danger.
“You can’t stop reading now, Dad! Just one more chapter, please?”
I had read many of the books as a kid, and I’ll admit I occasionally tossed in a twist that didn’t exactly appear on the printed page.
“Dad!” Jake would say. “You’re making that up!”
Eventually one Hardy Boys challenge was like another, and we began searching for more challenging fare. Books like Harry Potter.
The first of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books came out when Jake was two, but it would be a few years before we tackled the story of the boy who lived.
By then, Rowling had completed more books, so that as soon as we finished the first, we could move on to the second and then the third. At some point, we caught up with the author, joining the legions of fans waiting impatiently for the release of the next book in the series. And then the next.
In the end, Jake was reading the books on his own, leaving Dad to catch up later. Even now, though, the love of Harry Potter is a bond between us.
That time we spent reading was an important part of Jake’s childhood.
It helped him to develop far more than a love of reading.
The nonprofit organization Reading Is Fundamental says reading aloud to children allows them to “use their imaginations to explore people, places, times and events beyond their own experiences.” It helps them to develop empathy for others.
The organization says reading all of those books also boosted his vocabulary.
“Reading aloud introduces the language of books, which differs from language heard in daily conversations,” it says. “Book language is more descriptive and uses more formal grammatical structures.”
Jake is now 24, and he’s pursuing a doctorate at the University of Michigan. The Hardy Boys and Dr. Suess are far in the past, replaced by thick textbooks on complex topics in the language of academics.
He probably doesn’t remember much about those stock listings, but I’d guess he might still remember a little bit about “Go, Dog, Go” and “Good Night, Moon.”
And my aching back will testify he still has lots of books.