When you think of “magic,” what do you envision? A wand waving? The flash of a red-lined cape? The rabbit emerging from the top hat? Frankly, I was never one for magic; the tricks, while sometimes amazing, never fascinated me or drew me in. But then I discovered the magic of reading aloud!
Magic involves making things disappear, and making things reappear. It involves things that change shape, and things that inexplicably become other things, and things that happen while no one is looking. It involves escapes, and unwitting volunteers, and “lovely assistants.”
And you know what? So does reading aloud!
I have always loved to read. Some of my early memories are of my mom reading to me, using different voices for the characters we encountered. Later, I used to hide under my bed to avoid chores so that I could read “one more chapter” of my current thrilling story. I routinely read ten books a week as a teen. I still would rather read than do almost anything else!
I was determined to raise readers of my own one day when I had children. I would read to my children every day, I decided. I would make sure they had good books to read at all times, and would give books instead of toys for gifts.
My husband and I began reading to our first daughter while she was in the womb! I believe she knew her daddy’s voice from those read aloud sessions; they were such a sweet time for our little family. When she was born, I continued to read aloud to my constant sidekick. We read while she watched me with twinkling, inquisitive eyes. We read while sitting on the back steps, while resting on the playground, while snuggled on the couch. We read aloud every night, after bath time but before bedtime. We read library books, and books her daddy and I had as kids, and books we bought as presents. We read so often that her first real word was “book!” I actually think her first sentence was, “Read me this book!”
I am not sure we ever said “no” to the request to read. You see, reading was magic. We escaped the mundane world when we read; we entered different times and different places, got to know fantastic characters and experience thrilling situations. But it was also time to be together! While we snuggled physically side by side, our hearts and minds also drew nearer to one another. In reading aloud, we came to “know” the same people, experience the same joys and sorrows, face the same challenges and crises, exclaiming in relief and groaning in defeat as the stories unfolded.
When our second daughter was born, read-aloud time continued, only now there were two sets of books to read before naps and bedtimes. As the girls grew, we found new books to love and new characters to “visit,” some again and again. Even after my girls became readers themselves, read-aloud time remained a beloved ritual. We graduated to chapter books, laughing at the improbable adventures of Pippi Longstocking, holding our breath at the emergence of the Indian from the cupboard, and crying at the ending of A Cricket in Times Square. Even in the early Challenge years, we found our hearts yearning over the struggles of Much Afraid in Hinds Feet on High Places, and chuckling with delight over the puns in The Phantom Tollbooth. (My husband still likes to read “The Ransom of Red Chief” aloud whenever he can, and the girls are twenty-two and twenty now!)
I have realized that those years spent reading aloud were, in fact, a kind of magic I can really get behind. They were our passports to distant places and our entry into different worlds. Even dearer to my heart, though, are the memories of small, warm bodies tucked close to mine, begging for “just one more book” or “one more chapter, PLEASE!!” By reading together, my girls and I got to know one another in ways we might not have otherwise. We were changed and challenged and comforted by what we read together. Together we made magic!