Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday Soliloquy-- Growing Up With Books

The topic that's been on my mind the most lately is the fact that so many parents don't seem to realize the importance of books and reading when it comes to their children. Are there some misguided souls out there who believe that turning their children into readers means that their progeny will want to do nothing but lay about with their noses stuck in books?

Although I would imagine that that has happened a time or two, it's more than likely to have the exact opposite effect. When I was a child, books opened the world to me. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know, the more I wanted to see. Reading and books were hardwired into my DNA through my grandmother and mother, but they took no chances. Books were very common gifts in my small family. My mother and grandmother paid attention to me, and they also wanted me to form common interests with them. Yesterday afternoon, I strolled into my library and began scanning the shelves, looking for some of the books I've owned the longest. I brought an armload down here to the office and began scanning covers, inscriptions, illustrations. Opening those books brought back so many wonderful memories of time spent reading them, and time spent with the wonderful people who gave them to me.

One of the most important books of my childhood was The Burgess Bird Book For Children. My grandmother loved birds, and the second she observed me paying attention to them, she wanted to foster my interest. My mother, knowing how much I loved all of Thornton Burgess' books, knew just which book to give me for my birthday.

Burgess was a close observer of nature. Sure, his books for children had the animals dressed in human clothing and speaking English, but you'd be amazed at how much animal behavior he packed into those little books. As I scanned his bird book, I found myself opening it, and I began to read. I was hooked all over again, remembering my grandmother's "pop quizzes" when birds would come to her bird baths, remembering trips out into the woods with my grandfather and being thrilled when I could identify a new feathered friend. Thornton Burgess, with his clothed garrulous animals, taught me the importance of being still, of letting wildlife come to me, of watching how they behaved in their world. I read, I learned, and I took my new found knowledge out into the fresh air and applied it.

This one well-used book led to others. A couple of years later, my grandmother gave me a copy of the National Geographic Society's Song and Garden Birds of North America. I fell in love with the photography, and became convinced that I'd love to learn how to photograph birds if only film weren't so expensive!

Now I'm an adult, and I've graduated to The Sibley Guide to Birds. There's also such a thing as digital photography, and I no longer have to worry about the cost of film. Far from inducing me to lay about with my nose buried in a book, these books have endeared the outdoors to me. There are few things better than visiting places like the Rio Salado, the Gilbert Riparian Institute or the Boyce Thompson Arboretum and just walking quietly for hours, looking for tiny movements in the foliage and listening for some feathered delight to fill the air with song.

My mother and grandmother knew me very well. They knew that, the more interested in something I was, the best way to encourage that interest was to give me books about it. My lifelong love of birds hasn't just given me hours of pleasure indoors, it's encouraged an enduring love of the outdoors and of wildlife in all its forms. Giving books to children only encourages them to a life of sloth if parents let it. But most often, observing children, seeing what sparks their interest, and then giving them books that give them information about that enthusiasm will take them out into the world around them.

How eternally grateful I am that I had a family who loved me and wanted me to learn and to enjoy this wonderful planet!

(Click on the photos if you'd like to see them full size.)


  1. I think it's so sad the people view reading. These days.

    I m having a blog party this week. I have 9 books to raffle.

  2. I grew up surrounded by books and books and more books, my parents, grandparents and as many generations back I can remember, we have always been a reading family, who knew nothing better than stick their noses into a book and read.

    Of course, there are some members of the family, who never really took to reading and my better half is even known to not have opened a book since he graduated, LOL.

    But all in all, we all read in my family and we read all the time and we talk about books, argue about books, cry, laugh and agonize about books.

    And we do have lives outside of books of course.

    But I do know that I am priviledged and that not all families necessarily have the same resources as my own family has been blessed with.

    I often give books as presents to kids as well as to grown ups.

  3. "... that their progeny will want to do nothing but lay about with their noses stuck in books?"
    My daughters certainly prefer having their noses in books, but then, so do both of their parents, so we try to get the practical work done in a hurry to give us all time to sprawl on the couch in the evening with our books :)
    When my youngest was a few years younger we often saw her on rollerskates with a book in her hand :)

  4. I've been sitting for a few minutes here wondering what to comment -- because your post invoked so many memories and thoughts. I come from a bookish family too. Generations of them. Books were the best gifts and were frequent gifts.

    Yet, no matter how much we all read, my brothers and I were hardly ever indoors -- we were active and athletic and loved nature.

    Our bookish ways have led us along some interesting life paths, and I too am eternally grateful.

  5. What wonderful memories. Those books from your childhood are such treasures.

  6. What a wonderful post. I don't have children but if I had, I would have loved for them to have the love of reading that I do. Like you, from young my mother had me reading and reading. Books were always a gift in our home and still are. I can still remember me and mom both curled up in the living room, each with our own book. It definitely hasn't stopped me from having outside interests at all and in fact I think also that books can entice an individual into wanting to know more about something beyond the pages of what they've read. I don't care if someone thinks I read too much or I'm a book geek-I'm proud of it and it makes me happy.

  7. Hey, Blue--thanks for stopping by, and have a blast at your blog party!

    Louise--I don't have children, but will have two young ones in the house for two weeks. I know their mother isn't much of a reader, but I'm looking forward to seeing their reactions to all my books!

    Dorte--I was taught the same thing: get the work out of the way first so I can enjoy reading the rest of the day!

    Beth--I'm glad my post brought back some memories. It's hard for me to envision children being brought up any other way!

    Kathy--these books are very special to me, and it had been a while since I'd picked any of them up. I found it interesting that I can still get hooked on them now.

    Dar--Yup. I've had many people make remarks about my book geekiness in a disparaging way. Go right missed your mark. I took them all as compliments!

  8. This is such a wonderful and heartwarming post. Takes me back to the time when my aunts, who were my reading influences, almost always got me books for my birthday and Christmas.

  9. It's certainly a cause of concern in my feathered brain, too. Even if parents aren't bookworms themselves, I would think they would grasp the importance of reading for their kids' future success. But the statistics say more than half of parents don't read to their kids under 8.

    How wonderful that you still have your older bird books, Cathy. We love birds, and are continually consulting our manuals - "black and white bird, medium sized... hmmm". The boss of our yard is a certain pee-wee(magpie lark), who marches about on patrol, scolds us if we venture out, and has a go at anything four times his size that is foolish enough to fly or walk into his territory.

  10. Great post. I too had a wonderful mum who passed on her love of reading. We always got a book for Christmas and birthday and other special occasions and every Saturday morning we would go to the library together.

    I work with someone who is very proud of the fact he hasn't read a book since he left school (must be 20 years ago) and he says he threw away the books that people gave him when his own baby was born because he wasn't going to start reading again!

  11. I, too, come from a reading family like the rest of you commenters. My wife, however, came from a family of non-readers and none of her three siblings read—save for a "hot" romance novel now and then.

    I truly believe that the love of books, trolling every bookstore in sight, and memories like Cathy's are nurture, not nature.

  12. someone who gives a child a love of books gives them a wonderful gift that they will enjoy for a lifetime.

  13. What a lovely post! I have a great book that I read in my car when I am stuck somewhere that talks about writers reminiscing about the books that affected them as children. Most of them speak of some adult who made reading an important part of their lives -- either by example or by supporting their reading habit. I know my parents played a HUGE role in my being a reader, and I am trying to do the same for my son. One thing he is NEVER denied is a book. Toys I'll turn down but a book he wants? NEVER!

  14. Claire--I'm glad you enjoyed my post. I think we would all be a bit remiss if we didn't stop occasionally to thank the people who helped turn us into readers.

    Susan--you and your husband seem to enjoy birds as much as Denis and I do. Whenever we go walkabout with friends, I'm always the one who's expected to identify every bird, flower, tree , critter and rock. Is it any wonder I have a ton of reference books? LOL

    Bernadette--I simply cannot comprehend people who are proud of not reading books!

    Charlie--I well remember a poem I learned when I was small: Children Learn What They Live. Children may not be born readers, but the desire to imitate is so strong that, if they saw their parents reading and enjoying it, the seed would often be planted.

    Caite--how very, very true that is!

    Jenners--good for you! I like the way you're encouraging your son to read!

    Everyone's comments are giving me the glimmer of an idea for another blog feature!


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