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The Power of the Voice

September 24, 2005

One of the most pleasant and important memories from my childhood is when I remember Mom reading to my siblings and me, for about an hour after lunch. Everyday I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next to my favorite character, while I’d be transported to another time or place by the elasticity of Mom’s voice, as it became that character. When the chapter or time was up for the day, we’d often beg for more.

“Mom, pleeaasse read just a little more! Just ten more minutes, com’mon, please.” And Mom would usually smile and read ten–or fifteen or twenty minutes–longer.

We read the childhood classics. The Little House books were a family staple, and the Secret Garden was my first suspense novel. Cheaper by the Dozen had us laughing until we ached, and The Yearling, with its lush descriptions and heart-wrenching story, made us cry. These books were dubbed “family books,” and we continued to read aloud together even after I was old enough to read on my own. Mom believed it was important to experience different language styles, even if it sometimes was a little challenging to comprehend. The power of the audible voice captured any wanderings of my mind, making the stories dance off the page and into my imagination.

I can’t recall what I read first as a child, but I remember waking up early to read a Happy Holister mystery book before breakfast around the age of nine. About that same age I started reading the Sugar Creek Gang and Mandie mystery series. Mom would come tuck me in bed and tell me good night, and then, by the light of my electric candle, I’d secretly read my book, quickly putting it back on my night stand if I heard footsteps, and diving back under the covers. I was reprimanded the first time, but when caught again, I was punished for my disobedience.

“You’ll ruin your eyes!” Mom would exclaim, but who cared about the strength of one’s eyes when there was a robber to chase! (And yes, I wear contacts now.)

I also read out loud in order to share my love of books. When I was about twelve, I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia to my brother and my Dad while we were on a road trip. The long, cranky hours went quickly, and even Dad hated to stop for gas, because then the story would have to be interrupted.

My love of literature did not diminish when I out-grew my childish paperbacks. When I was in 9th grade I was resolute in my goal to start reading “adult” classics. I distinctly remember my experience of tackling Ben-Hur, for some unknown reason, when I was fourteen. I never struggled through a book more than I did Ben-Hur. I read it in spurts, and it took me a whole year to finish it. I recall lying in bed wondering why I’d ever chosen this book to read, while fingering the thick yellowed pages and frayed black cover. However, I actually liked the second half of the book, although I did not enjoy the first half for lack of action. Les Miserables was the next giant book to fall into my hands. I plowed through steadily and determinedly, yet I was immensely satisfied and proud of myself when I completed it.

The benefits from those cozy days curled up on the couch did not just result in better reading skills. My sister, brother and I dramatized our favorite stories. We led a wagon train sitting on a picnic table and made “stew” out of water and freshly cut grass. We hid maps in the floorboards of the barn, buried and then found our own treasure. Our imaginations soared with story ideas to act out either in private, or in theatrical performances various family members had to sit through.

However, I can also trace my love for writing and art back to those years of family reading, which influenced my decision to major in English and graphic design. Listening to so many great books taught me what good writing sounded like, and I, wanting to emulate it, soon took up writing faintly plagiarized stories. Slowly, my stories became more original and evolved into my constant companions; I’d drag them with me on any trip, to the grocery store, or to visit grandma. I was determined to become the youngest author to ever be published. Well, that didn’t happen, but big dreams are a natural part of childhood.

The various illustrations, which accompanied many of my childhood books, engrossed me; I’d spend hours copying my favorite scenes. Then, one day, I decided to try to illustrate my own book, and from there on I mostly wrote and illustrated my own little stories. Carefully cutting squares of paper, I would write a few paragraphs on each page, then I drew and colored the scenes I saw in my head.

It’s easy for me to see how my life was enriched and nurtured by an investment of time as simple as reading out-loud. If I ever have my own children, I can’t wait to introduce them to my childhood friends from other times, and other places. Thank you, Mom, for reading to me.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2005 8:18 pm

    The first book I read was Everybody Poops.

    Mr. Morris
    Ask Morris

  2. September 24, 2005 8:18 pm

    What a beautiful post! You mentioned many titles that are my own personal favorites, too!

    My mother and father read to me, and I read to my children. A beloved voice can give a beloved story even more meaning. How lovely to find someone else who knows this!

  3. September 24, 2005 8:31 pm

    Thanks for your comments on my blog. I love to read too, though right now it is mostly text books.

    I remember as a youngster picking up a Nancy Drew mystery book and thinking that the chapters were short stories and that I could read any of them in any order I wanted to. At this time I had not had any chapter books, so I guess I wasn’t quite sure how that worked until I was told I had to start at the beginning and read straight through…now, I’m happy to say I don’t have any problem with chapter books LOL!

  4. September 24, 2005 9:48 pm

    Ha, Shelley, that’s so funny! I guess things were a little confusing for you for a while!

  5. September 25, 2005 8:35 pm

    Danielle, I love to read your vivid memories. I can picture your water-and-grass stew. I, too, had a mom who read to me. IN fact, my earliest memory was of taking naps every day, three in a bed,with my mom in between my older sister and me. Mama read “Big, Sister, Little Sister” over and over, with our favorite line being (when the older sister hands a tissue to little crying sister), “Here, blow.” It’s a family joke, now, as I’m the cryer of the family. Rachel will shove an abrasive napkin at me over dinner and say, “Here, blow,” and we all laugh. Another favorite was “Grandpa’s Policmen Friends.” I gotta look on ebay for it. Can’t find it in the library. I also loved watching my mom teach an illiterate 28 year old man to read Hop on Pop. To this day it is the book all my kids have learned to read first. Do share more homegrown stories!

  6. September 25, 2005 10:59 pm

    We loved “Big Sister, Little Sister!” When we lived in Tenn. my mom used to get it from the library and I’d forgotten all about it until you mentioned it! Do you know who it’s by? I’d love to find a copy. I’ll have to do some research.

  7. September 26, 2005 8:33 am

    If you find where it’s sold, let me know. I’d love to give it to my big sister for Christmas. And maybe one for my mom. She’s got a little sister. Of course,her little sister is in her mid-50s, but…….

  8. September 26, 2005 2:12 pm

    Thanks for your post. It confirmed for me that reading aloud is a tradition I want to start for my own kids. My family didn’t do read-alouds very much until my younger sister decided she’d try Pride & Prejudice to see what Mom and I liked so much about it. She couldn’t get through it herself, so we read it together, usually when one of us was washing dishes. After that, we read several more books together.

    Darren’s family read aloud a lot, so now that we’re married we’ve gone through a number of books together, including two or three Narnias. And Addie is almost old enough for us to start on the Little House books!

    — SJ

  9. mom permalink
    September 26, 2005 10:51 pm

    Thanks Danielle for the read, and the joy of reading to you. You know how sentimental I am, I type this through tears of remembrance, joy and sorrow. I’m still enjoying reading to Judith;however I miss the days of all my young ones around me “in the nest”. Did you forget Rebekah has the book, Big Sister, Little Sister? It was one of my favorites too. Always reminded me of the days when it was just you two. Remember how you cried at the end of the Little House books? Convinced there were no more good books to read. Again thanks to you, it was a joy and a priviledge. M-

  10. September 26, 2005 11:39 pm

    What a wonderful blog! My parents only read little kiddie stories to me so I didn’t like reading until I was assigned ‘The Once and Future King’ then I became an addict. I now read to my own kids all the time. I’m reading the ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ to my son now. At first he protested saying it was a girlie book but now he is begging us to take turns reading aloud. What fun!

  11. October 3, 2005 12:12 pm

    Your post confirms my opinion that it is good to read aloud to my boys, even it they squirm the entire time. Thanks for the fresh motivation and incentive. I think we’re going to read the Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe before the movie comes out. I don’t want their first experience of this book to be the movie.

    I didn’t become a reader until later in life. It’s sad what I missed out on when I had soooo much time on my hands. I don’t want that to happen to my kids.

    On the other hand, I think I give hope to the non-reading community. It’s never too late to cultivate a passion/habit of reading. Even on my craziest day, I find time to read.

  12. October 19, 2005 8:30 am

    Thanks for a great post. I, too, am a book lover. Now, my four boys and I are enjoying books together.

    I found your blog through Laurie’s. As I was reading your blog, I realized that my husband knows yours – and we live in Kansas! They both went to the Worship Leaders’ Training Week in May. Small world!

  13. October 21, 2005 8:55 am

    Fishboys- Thanks for visiting my blog! That’s so funny that our husbands have met. When I told my husband where you were from he remembered meeting your husband at the conference!

  14. Dianne permalink
    January 15, 2007 4:36 pm

    Every week I join a wonderful friend who just turned 95 to read out loud. She can read fine on her own but we both enjoy the time together. However, we’ve found not all books are suited to out loud reading. If anyone has suggestions.for us, we’d love them.


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