Now I know I’m not the only one who feels a sense of smug pleasure when reading a non-fiction book extolling the positives of a habit you already practice. Doesn’t it feel good to read a news article talking about how coffee is good for you, when you drink it regularly? Or how dark chocolate is a healthy alternative to milk chocolate, when you just ‘happen’ to prefer dark chocolate anyway? This is how I felt reading The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon; it lays out a convincing argument on why reading out loud to your kids is so important, in fact, reading out loud to just about anyone is a worthwhile activity. Many bookworms, and followers of this blog (Grab The Lapels I’m looking at you!) will be nodding their heads knowingly. We know why books are important, but I’m always happy and willing to read a book that’s going to further support this idea anyway.
I was lucky enough to hear Gurdon speak at a Calgary Reads event, (full disclosure, it’s an organization I absolutely adore and am a member of their Board of Directors) and it’s clear she’s comfortable with public speaking, because although she was feeding us statistics, I was so engaged with her talk. Like any good storyteller, she hooked us at the beginning with a fairy tale, and continued to incorporate it into her speech as she continued. Her book is formatted much the same way; she inserts anecdotes about parenting her five (!!!) children in between arguments: the highs and lows of attempting to read out loud to them as much as humanly possible. Like every parent, she was tired when nighttime swung around, so sometimes reading just wasn’t in the cards for them, but even if the youngest was on the floor playing with his trucks while she read out loud to the older kids, it mattered, and it continues to matter.
Not only was this book entertaining, confirming many of my pre-existing beliefs, it included a wide swath of stories and examples that feed into the research around literacy and kids. One horrifying stat for you: “Eighty-five percent of kids who get into trouble with the law have poor literacy skills (p. 17)” Reading aloud to your kids isn’t just an opportunity for you to bond, it’s one of the most effective ways you can ensure their success later in life. Put down the flash cards, and pick up a storybook instead-you’ll both have more fun.
Another fascinating point Gurdon makes in this book is the idea that reading aloud is the only action that’s proven to counteract the damage that too much screen time has on our children’s brains. There are so many articles bombarding parents about how terrible it is to grow up in today’s world where kids are faced with screens at home and at school. But in an encouraging and hopeful tone, Gurdon explains that listening to a story read aloud to you (in person is best) helps rebuild these neurons that are dying out from lack of use due to screen time. Reading aloud to one another is a simple, cost-effective and entertaining way to bond as a family, and it can be done just about anywhere! Gurdon’s even included 11 pages of suggested books that she recommends for reading aloud, divided into sections by age and interest.
Towards the end of the book she devotes a section on the benefits of reading aloud to other adults, especially those who are nearing the end of life. So many of us will at one point or another find ourselves at the bedside of a loved one, struggling for things to talk about once they’ve fallen ill; adults with aging parents will relate especially to this chapter. Gurdon suggests that reading aloud to our aging population is a wonderful way of not only reconnecting, but slowing down any age-related mental illnesses. Once again, listening to stories being read aloud is not only beneficial to babies and young children who are building their brains, but for those who are nearing the end of life, clinging to the brain power they’ve relied on for decades. Knowing about this easily accessible tool gives me hope for my future years, now I just need to find a storyteller who will read to me when my eyes give out…
So I clearly loved this book, everything about it, but that comes as no surprise. I’m hoping that by reviewing this book on my blog it will encourage other people to read it, and more importantly, spread the love of reading aloud to their friends and family too.