Today, while I was cooking dinner and doing other household chores, The Button kept following me around with a board book in her hand saying, “Daddy, can you read to us?” over and over again. ["Us," even though it was just her, because that's what she hears her big sister say.] After saying “Just a minute, sweetheart” a couple times only to have her repeat her entreaty, book thrust up toward me, I finally put aside what I was doing and said, “Okay, sweetie. Let’s read.”
The Pumpkin, at age seven, is a voracious reader. We read to her from the get-go, and filled her bookshelves with board books and picture books and books she wouldn’t appreciate until much later. I still remember reading Shirley Brice Heath‘s Way With Words in an education class on literacy in college and coming across for the first time the idea that merely growing up in, as she called it, a “print-rich environment” correlated with literacy, fluency and academic achievement later in life. My childhood bedroom is still lined on two walls with the almost-floor-to-ceiling bookshelves my parents bought when I was little, and the paperback sci-fi novels of my childhood still clutter those shelves, alongside older hardcover picture books that my mother had saved and that my daughters eagerly grab for when they visit. [One of the things that sold me on the first house we bought and still live in were the floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves in the formal living room; for the first time, we were able to put all our books out, and even with the built-ins, we still have to use two more bookshelves, plus the cookbook shelves in the kitchen.] I knew, before The Pumpkin was born, that I wanted to pass down my love of reading to her, and I was going to surround her with books so that she couldn’t help but pick it up by default.
But having a second kid is a funny thing. You’re juggling so many things, including the older kid, that it’s all too easy to forget things and take things for granted. As la dra. and I have discussed many a time, it’s not entirely true that siblings grow up in the same house. The Pumpkin got four years of us without having to share, even if I worked outside the home for the second two of those. The Button, on the other hand, has had me at home for a lot longer than her sister, but she’s had to live a life that revolves around her big sister’s drop-offs and pick-ups. As far as reading goes, when The Button joined us, we were so cognizant of the need to maintain a sense of normalcy and parental focus for The Pumpkin, continuing our nightly reading rituals, that it was way, way too long before we realized that reading to The Pumpkin with The Button in the same room was not the same thing as reading to The Button, and definitely not the treatment and exposure to books and reading that we’d given her big sister at the same age.
And though we acted quickly to rectify that, with lots of reading aloud at home, and still the bookshelves filled with all sorts of tomes, and with trips to the bookstore and the library and storytimes, and even with The Pumpkin getting into the act and reading to her herself, we went through a long period [well, as long a period as you can have when you're talking about a person who's not yet three years old] where we feared that we’d missed the boat, that merely having that same “print-rich environment” wasn’t going to be enough. She’d sooner eat a board book than look at it, and where her sister would sit and listen to a story being read, The Button was, shall we say, a tad energetic. We’d think back to when The Pumpkin was recognizing the letters of the alphabet, pointing them out in the text of books, and fret about The Button being behind.
We needn’t have worried. Or well, it’s good that we worried, in the beginning, because that made us realize what we weren’t giving her in the bustle of a two-childen household, and give it to her. Now, while she still is more likely to be standing up or walking around during a bookstore storytime, she is listening, and she seems to be on the road to loving books as much as her sister. When she brings a book to me and asks for me to read it to her —”Read it, daddy! Read it!”—my heart melts. Even when she asks me to reread the same book for the fifth time in a row. Heh. (“Again, daddy! Again!”) Just like her sister before her, the bookstore is her playground—”Chil-dren’s. Sec-tion! Chil-dren’s. Sec-tion!”—and she gleefully pulls multiple volumes off the shelves to shove at me (“Read, daddy!”). We’re still working on the whole “put it back where you got it from” part.