“When we open a book, and share our voice and imagination with a child, that child learns to see the world through someone else’s eyes.” ~ Anna Dewdney
I closed the cover of the book, took a deep breath to steady my heart’s pounding, and began:
“We saw through this true story that something bad happened to Corrie ten Boom, but God was still with her family.” Another deep breath. “And something bad happened here in Newtown, but God is still with all of us, too.”
My husband and I went on to explain about the tragic shooting that had taken place at nearby Sandy Hook Elementary. A powerful story provided the secure emotional scaffolding we needed to support us in the toughest conversation we’d ever had with our three children. The courage the ten Booms displayed in the midst of the evils of World War II stirred within us the courage we needed to go through, alongside our beloved community, some of the toughest days we’d ever known as well.
That’s not the first time a well-written story has helped us navigate the ups and downs of family life. Reading aloud has long been a part of our days. Stories have connected us, not just with characters but with each other. They’ve helped us heal, challenged us, and kindled our empathy and compassion. They’ve even enabled us to travel the entire world, using our library card as our passport, an experience that shaped our home atmosphere so much I wrote the reading treasury Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time so other families could do the same.
So when I heard that children’s book author Anna Dewdney just passed away, and “requested that in lieu of a funeral service people read to a child instead,” it brought tears to my eyes.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you want to honor her memory by reading to your child:
1. Read when (and how) it works for you, not when (and how) you think you should.
Bedtime stories work well for many families, but they’ve always made me want to fall asleep. My energy levels usually diminish by evening’s end. When I finally realized I didn’t have to live up to anyone else’s reading “rules” I got along much better. Do what works for you and yours to make books part of your family’s life.
2. Look for a title that interests both you and your kids.
Don’t go for a book that you know you’ll have to grit your teeth just to get through. Aim for one that will give you as much joy as it does your little ones. Keep in mind these words from C.S Lewis: “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”
3. Go beyond the words when you can.
Use a story as a launching pad, when possible, to have a meaningful conversation with your child. A well-written book opens the door for us to discuss topics that might be tough to bring up on their own.
Anna Dewdney died from cancer at the young age of 50, but the legacy of words she leaves behind will continue to bring joy to thousands of families. As for me, I plan to gather my three tweens tonight and read our way through her sweet tale Llama, Llama, Red Pajama. Afterwards I’ll hold those growing babes of mine for an extra second or two, in Dewdney’s honor, thankful for the reminder to be grateful for another day together. Sometimes the right story comes along just when you need it.