Our local library was asking for book donations and when my wife and I approached our ten-year-old Sebastian with the idea of offering up some of his large library, he said it sounded like a great idea.
Philanthropic, I told him, and then explained.
I accompanied him to his bookshelf to get together ten or so books for delivery later that day.
“How about Harry Potter?” I asked as a starting point.
The look on his face was one of utter shock and astoundment. “Are you kidding!” he shouted, in true disbelief. “I would never even let someone borrow these,” he said, clutching the the series to his chest, a look of horror spreading over him.
We’d read the first book together at night over the course of a summer. As I looked at the cover of The Sorcerer’s Stone, memories of his young eyes peeking up at me from underneath the covers came rushing back.
He had read the rest of the series on his own.
“Ok, ok,” I said, smiling a little, secretly glad that he was showing such attachment to books (of any kind).
“How about The Hunger Ga-”
He didn’t even let me finish before he tore the Collin’s trilogy from my hands and set it next to Harry Potter under his bed. “Why would I give that away!” he exclaimed. “I’ve read that series three times!”
“Will you read it again?” I asked.
“Of course!” he shouted, his face flush with emotion.
I had started book one of the Hunger Games series one night, telling him that after we were done reading we could watch the movie. I’d read chapter one.
He went on to read the rest on his own in the course of a couple of nights.
“Why didn’t you wait for me?” I said after I found out he had secretly finished the book without me. I was angry. I’d wanted to see his reaction when Katniss put an arrow through the apple in the pig’s mouth, wanted to be there for him after Rue, wanted to see the look of fear in his eyes when the killer fog rolled in, wanted to cheer with him when the Nightlock came out.
“I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next!” Sebastian said.
I realize now that books have become a deep connecting point with my kids – a place of kindred escape – a place where we can show vulnerability, frustration and joy, a place where we can converse about hopes, dreams, fears and possibility, a place where we can escape the noise and confusion of the everyday, the mindless hum of the Ipad screen.
In a world of early mornings and overflowing calendars, buzzing cell phones and relentless email, it’s comforting to know that books are there for us, a vital respite, one that we all deserve and one that we all need.
I know that one of my most important jobs as a parent is to make a place for reading (and writing) in our home; to show that carefully crafted words are worthy of our effort and time, and to prove that it is okay to sit still, to use imagination, to travel to unknown lands, to learn on our own.
I mean, where would I be without Charlotte and her web, without the BFG? Without Max and his Wild Things? Where would I be without Little Anne and Big Dan and the wondrous land of Teribithia? Without Charlie and his Chocolate Factory? Without the generosity of The Giving Tree? Without Ron, and Hermione and Harry, of course?
Where would we be?
And so I sit on the couch with an open book. I sit between three kids and three screens. I sit and they see me laugh, and cry, and shout at my book with rage. They see me quiet and still and engaged for minutes sometimes hours sometimes days. And then they put down their screens and ask what I am reading and if they can get their own book, and where and when?
Most importantly, though, I take time to read to them and with them. Every kid. Every night. No matter what. And they grow with every word, every chapter, every book.
It’s a wonderful world, this one that books create. One worthy of exploration.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.