Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sharing Stories: A Gift That Lasts a Lifetime

When I was growing up, my father had one favorite book to read aloud to me: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (with illustrations by Robert Lawson). Well, actually, our copy was El Cuento de Ferdinando translated into Spanish by Pura Belpré, (with my father's re-translation back into English handwritten on each page by my mother).

In my memory, this was my goodnight book off and on for many years, sometimes read in English and sometimes in Spanish (which I didn't and sadly still don't understand).

In truth, I have no idea how many times I heard the story, but the words, the feeling, and the experience of sharing that time with my father all had an impact on me. A positive one.

My father read other books, too, and shared stories from newspapers, magazines, and wherever else he found them. When I headed off to college, he emailed stories he'd find to me (and I emailed ones I'd find back to him).

Later, I moved to Los Angeles, leaving my computer science degree unused to pursue my dream of being a screenwriter. Was that the influence of Ferdinand sending me off to find my own path? Perhaps. Certainly, my father smiled at the choice. Soon, I was writing stories... and my father was always one of my first readers.

I have two boys of my own now. I love to read aloud to them. I share books and poems and stories snuggled on the couch and from the front of the car and huddled around my computer and shouted from across the room and, well, wherever we are and wherever we find stories. They already share back.

I know research shows how important it is to read aloud to children. Literacy is so critical and that alone should be reason enough for dads (and moms) to read to their kids. But for me, the reasons to read aloud and share stories go deeper still.

When you share stories, they became part of the way you communicate. My father and I could use stories to share what excited us, to learn and teach, to help decipher the world, to connect with each other even thousands of miles apart. Understanding stories helped broaden my world and has made my life richer.

Best of all, though, sharing stories creates a bond, and a surprisingly strong one at that. And reading aloud with your child begins the process.

I've been the volunteer librarian at my sons' school for five years now, and when I walk across campus, it's not at all unusual for a student to run up to me to tell me what they're reading or to share a story of their own. Even there, with me only reading to them once a week, story has created a connection. You can capture that at home. It isn't hard.

Pick your favorite books or let your child pick. Read what excites you from a magazine or newspaper or read what you think might excite them. Be enthusiastic, no matter what you're reading (even when it's a book you can't believe they like), and show your child that you have the time for them, that you care what they like, that you are listening, and you are sharing.

And remember, reading aloud is an experience... a shared moment... and not a race to the end of the story.

By reading aloud, you will make a positive impact, often in ways you never even contemplated.

You see, my father passed away about a dozen years ago. Yet to this day, when I see any copy of The Story of Ferdinand, not just my childhood copy which I still have, I can hear my father reading to me...

And like Ferdinand himself, I am very happy.

So share a story. Shape a future. Read aloud to your kids and give a gift that lasts a lifetime.

(I'm proud to be a part of the kick off day of Share a Story - Shape a Future, a week-long reading and literacy related blog event. Click through to learn more and see links to some wonderful posts throughout the blogosphere.)


Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

this was beautiful. I loved hearing how students run up to you to share the stories that excite them! And yeah, reading to our kids is an amazing connection, through the generations... And Ferdinand is a favorite here, too. "well if you were a bee and a bull sat on you, what would you do?" - good times!
Thanks for sharing your story about sharing a story!

Terry Doherty said...

Wow, Greg. At the risk of TMI - I've got goosebumps. Lee's daughter isn't the only lucky kid in Southern California! Three generations of dads and sons reading together and sharing stories - very cool.

Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous post, Greg. Hugs to you!

Amy McCall said...

Greg - Amazing story about your Dad, you, your boys. As the mother of two boys, now 18 and, as of later this week, 20 years old, there are many parenting decisions of which I am uncertain. The one thing that all of us, my husband, both boys and I, agree upon is that reading aloud often and diversely, as you describe, was nothing but good. We read until they were about 11 and 13, successively more sophisticated material. Some of my fondest memories stem from those shared experiences. Thanks!


Greg Pincus said...

Thanks, y'all. And Amy... your boys can't be that old. I refuse to believe that (though when I do the math, it makes sense!).

Mary Ann Scheuer said...

Greg, this is a wonderful, wonderful story and reflection. It reaffirms how important that time reading aloud is - especially as a tired parent at the end of the day, I sometimes just want to rush through and turn off my daughter's light. We need to savor those moments, building the connections and memories. Thank you for sharing such a special memory.
Mary Ann

Brimful Curiosities said...

What a wonderful memory. My father struggles with reading aloud but always tries his best and always took time to read to us even though it was difficult for him. Parents should remember that their children don't care about mistakes or abilities - they care about time spent together and will always cherish those memories.

Jim. said...

Great advice, Greg, and what a lucky guy you were with a Dad that loved to read.

My son is two, and we read stories every night after dinner. First down stairs, mixed in with some duplo building, and then upstairs on "da cozee bed, Daddy".

Its amazing how much he takes in, remembers and repeats. We're currently in a "Billy Twitters and His Big Blue Whale Problem" phase, with dozens of readings experienced this past week. Now, every time we see a school bus Isaac shouts, "Mr. Whitbread driving the bus!".

He's living the story, and we live it with him.


Anonymous said...

Great, Greg...Share with you reading to my two girls...and my two grandsons...although funny, grandsons insisted that I read from the Bible...Nothing stirred them more than David, Moses and the seven plagues...and other such tales whu=ich they practically knew by heart...LOL

(No way of avoiding "anonymous"...but FYI...really mchjc...)

Jen Robinson said...

This is wonderful, Greg. I especially liked your point about stories becoming part of how you communicate as a family. That's something I look forward to.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more ... my husband still reads to my daughter (she's almost 16!) or sometimes she reads to him. Even if they've been on unsteady terms (did I mention she's 16?) at the end of the day they make peace and read. Their book(s) of choice are Harry Potter and they're rereading the seventh one now.
On a different note, my husband read to his father as he died slowly day by day and I think this made for a lovely bridge between them.
Thank you for reminding us of this very powerful gift we can give to our children (and our parents).

tanita✿davis said...

Oh, lovely. Thanks for sharing. I also LOVE Ferdinand. What an awesome trailblazer for you.

Shannon Morgan said...

Terrific post, Greg. Loved seeing the page from your copy of Ferdinand. I was lucky to have parents who read to me. Dad read Green Eggs and Ham so much he can still recite it. :)

Melissa Taylor said...

What a wonderful memory, Greg - with the best choice in a book. I, too, adore that story. Thanks for inspiring!


BookChook said...

I loved Ferdinand too. And in the true spirit of sharing stories, not just books, I found him on Youtube a month or so ago. Do you remember this video version?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Greg.
Fathers and stories.
Close to my heart, this.
Rebecca Dotlich

Tristan Bancks said...

Hi Greg

I love this post. Reading to my two boys is one of the finest moments of the day for me. I don't think they've ever said no to a book being read to them. It's exciting when you see them respond to something like 'My Side of the Mountain' which was one of my fave books as a kid. I love that idea of stories traveling through generations. Thanks for the post!


Anonymous said...

Great post. I read to my kids until they were in their teens. And still do read to them when we can all find time to sit down together.

It is a wonderful way to spend time and to open up discussion and share experience. I love going to movies with my kids, too, but not quite as much as reading with them.


Dawn Riccardi Morris said...

I love The Story of Ferdinand! It's such a beautiful story of peace and individuality, and one that is truly timeless. I can see why it left such an impression on you. It's one of those picture books that people of all ages can - and should - read together.

How wonderful that you find time to volunteer as a librarian. It's such a great way to share a love of literacy with children.

I want you to know that I loved your post so much that I emailed it to my husband! It's a good reminder for him to find more time to read with our children, who are now 12 and 14.

Thank you for sparking some great memories, and for sharing some of your own.