Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Susan Henderson, On Reading

"I’ve read to my children since they were in diapers—not just at bedtime, but mornings in the hammock, afternoons in the sandbox, and evenings in the bathtub while they sailed little plastic boats in the bubbles. Reading time connected us to each other and to the larger world.

My kids learned early-on that books are where secrets are told—what children really think about when they’re alone, what parents worry about in the next room, why a stingy old man cries out in fear in the middle of the night. Books gave us some of our best laughs (seeing how fast we could read the Tweetle Beetle Battle without getting tongue-tied) and some of our best cries (waiting with the Velveteen Rabbit for the bonfire).

Books are where everything is possible—babies are raised by wolves, hearts thump beneath the floorboards, little girls make balloons from pig bladders. You can stand in the shoes of an orphan or a bully, you can clap your hands to bring a fairy back to life, you can make a witch believe you’re too thin to eat, you can travel far from home—to farms and cities and battlefields, to Whoville and Panem and outer space.

My kids are now teenagers, but I still read to them many nights a week—The Hobbit, Don Quixote, The Graveyard Book, the Disc World series. We are just finishing Huck Finn, and they were wide-eyed at the idea of a boy having to run for safety from his own father and fascinated by the pranks he pulled off. They also notice how I’ve struggled with the language in the book, even though I’ve told them it’s important that it's in there.

Sometimes as I’m reading to my kids, I think about when they were little and wearing their superhero pajamas, their feet all twitchy during storytime. I think of the things that didn’t exist in our world before we read about them, like muggles, thneeds, heffalumps, and dementors. And I think of what reading has cemented between us—a chance for us all to say without having to actually say it, Stay close a little while longer."

Susan Henderson is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets award, and her work has — twice — been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her debut novel, Up From The Blue, was published by HarperCollins in 2010 and is now in its fourth printing. She blogs at LitPark and The Nervous Breakdown.}


  1. I wish my bigger boys still liked me to read to them. Now that they can read on their own, they don't want me to. But maybe as they get older, they will realize the joy of having someone read aloud to you. and I still have the littlers to read to.

  2. Such a beautiful post, Susan. I love this!