I just finished putting the kids to bed. Even though they’re all old enough to read to themselves, a treasured part of our bedtime routine includes me reading aloud each night. Our current selection is Wildwood, and I’m enjoying it as much as the kids!
I’ve been annotating as we read, which led to a great discussion, albeit short, with my oldest about annotating books. He said it felt like annotating distracted him from enjoying the book. I explained that it helped me better understand the characters, settings, and author’s intent. It was a delightful glimpse of the conversations yet to come.
Tonight, after I prayed over the boys, I told them story of when I sold Day Designer back in 2016, and took the next year to read them 1000 books. I was trying to make up for lost time and reading 1000 books out loud seemed like a measurable goal, something we could achieve together.
We started with enthusiasm, but at times it felt like a daunting, thankless task. On occasion, the kids talked over me while I read, or giggled and poked each other, and I wondered if they were listening at all. But I kept going, because there were also moments where they would crawl into my lap and snuggle as I read to them.
They are too big to crawl onto my lap now, so reading those books with kids cuddled close is a treasured memory. But aside from happy memories, I also am now seeing unexpected benefits I didn’t know this experiment would lead to. At the time, the only thing I truly knew was that, if nothing else, the time spent together, reading those 1,000 books, would be worth it.
Over the course of that year, I used a now-treasured journal to track the books by title, with a column for each child. I wrote in it daily, carting it to soccer games and the lake, and making notes on the backs of the pages about the progress I started to see over that year.
Reading 1,000 books taught my middle and youngest child to read. Entirely. When we started, they knew the alphabet, but that was it. Occasionally, if I felt ambitious, I had them sound out words. But most days, I just made sure each child heard three books. With three kids, that’s a minimum of three books and a maximum of nine. If I read to each child individually, I was TIRED. Some picture books are dang long! But by the time we got to 1,000, those two were reading!
My oldest, the one who seemed to benefit from the readings the LEAST at the time, became a voracious (and I mean voracious) reader. He only wants to read things that have a series, and he wants to read them IN ORDER. All of them. He finishes books like a pro. We are so proud of him, and love seeing him sprawled out with a book in hand.
My middle child only wants to read graphic novels. He had to force himself to finish A Wrinkle In Time this summer. His teacher told him his reading habits are horrible. But that kid is the first in bed when he knows I’ll be reading. He retells stories fabulously, with detail and precision. I know he’s grasping every single word of what I say. So far, his love of stories hasn’t translated to a love of reading by himself, but I’m confident he’ll get there.
Tonight, as I was discussing annotation with my oldest, my youngest came in from her room to join the conversation. She wanted to know if I was writing in the books, and wondered if she could write in books, too.
My philosophy on writing in books: Never write in library books. But if you own the book, learning how to annotate will help you reference the book later. I currently prefer using mechanical pencil, but depending on paper type, I may choose pen instead. But really, sometimes you just need to grab the closest writing instrument. I like to write the date I’m reading in the front of the book. This gives me an idea of what was going on in my life when I read the book. I can cross reference with my calendar and diaries and get a deeper idea about why a book may have been significant to me. This process makes for great journaling and archive building. There are some books I don’t like to write in at all: picture books, glossy books, and full color books. I usually dogear pages when I’m reading, but I try to avoid this at all costs in illustrated books. That feels like I’m messing with someone else’s art, and that’s just something I can’t do.
I love that five years later, I’m able to trace conversations we are having now back to that year of 1,000 books, and I can’t wait to see how the love of reading continues to grow in my kids over time.