“What we have loved
others will love
and we will teach them how.”
As a public school teacher, the words above became somewhat of a mantra. I hung them up as a reminder about what I wanted the students in my classroom to experience. They were words that also caused me to pause and consider people whose passions helped me to develop my own.
This is my Grandma Eva. In this picture we are doing one of our favorite things–reading. More than any other person in my life she is responsible for awakening the learning-reading-thinking-writing-loving-language part of me. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in a home surrounded by books, a Kindergarten teacher for a mom, and have a long line of Language Arts teachers I’m also grateful for. I’ve been influenced by many people in this department, but none so tenderly and so significantly as the woman in the rocking chair above.
My grandparents lived a few blocks away from my childhood home. Daily trips were the norm, not the exception. The Palmyra Public Library was easily one of my childhood favorite places, in part because visits there usually included grandma. We’d walk down Main Street, head to our separate shelves, take our time browsing for selections, and find the other person when finished.
When we left, she’d have her stack and I’d have mine. I think that’s part of what made my grandma different than some of my other early literary influences. I had many people in my life who read to me, but not nearly as many who had an open, honest, real reading life themselves. Her books were huge and watching her devour page after page made me hungry to do the same. I sort of considered returning books that you read in their entirety a badge of honor, but I always felt that my accomplishment paled in comparison to the stack my grandma placed on the circulation desk. I vowed many times that someday my stack would look like hers.
When we returned home from our trip, the words on the page were brought to life through my grandma’s voice. It started simply enough. Classic fairy tales with long-haired princesses and peas under mattresses. Patricia Polacco’s Thundercake followed by a chance to try out the recipe for ourselves. Together we plowed through the entire collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder pausing only when my grandma shared her own experiences of preparing for winter on a farm in the 1920s and 1930s.
More recently, I was reminded of my grandma’s language loving legacy. Now in her 90s, her vision is significantly impaired. When turning pages no longer became an option, she turned to the audio version instead. One afternoon, I found her laying down with her eyes closed while the book played. When I teased her about “resting her eyes,” she quickly replied, “Oh. I’m not sleeping. I’m picturing what the words would look like on the page.” Most of us visualize what’s taking place in the stories we read. Yet, my book-loving grandma took it a step further. She not only enjoyed the story, but the act of reading in and of itself.
There are several reasons I’m sharing this set of memories with my grandma:
- As her example illustrates, sharing a genuine love for something comes most naturally from loving it yourself. I was taught to love books by watching an example that was impossible to fake. It happened not through one trip to the library but through many real experiences that happened consistently over time. I think her example has far reaching implications not just for the way we might awaken a love of books in our children but also for the way we share our love of all things, including Christ, with others.
- Closely connected to point number one is the fact that our children are always watching and learning from not just our words, but also our actions. I highly doubt my grandma explicitly made the decision to involve me in her reading life so that I’d have the type of experience outlined above. The type of learning that took place was far more implicit. What kinds of things are our kids picking up from us, both good and bad?
- In her book, Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noel Piper simply states that no parent knows what their child’s strongest, most lasting family memory will be. I think it’s easy for us to assume that the more complex, expensive, elaborate experience we create, the more impactful it will be on our kids. Don’t get me wrong, special family traditions can certainly be significant and valuable but as this story and much of my childhood indicates, what has often been most impactful is far more mundane and simple and usually happens over time in the context of a sustained relationship.
- There’s far more to say here than space allows for, but reading to and with our children is important. We were created in the image of a creative God. Enjoying art, imagination, and beauty in a variety of forms, including language, is something God wants us to do. Reading helps us to understand our culture, our world, and each other. A well written story has the ability to capture not just a child’s imagination, but their heart as well. Stories help us to understand those whose perspective might be different from ours. They also help us to communicate our own. Reading develops relationship. The simple act of curling up with a good book together and enjoying some undivided, quality time together as a family is special. Finally, God reveals Himself through the written Word. As a result, literacy is inseparably linked to understanding the Christian faith. If we are to understand God’s character and the history of the hope we’ve been called to, the ability to understand, enjoy, and digest text will help significantly.