Why do we read to our children?

You might think, here at Aslan’s Library, that that’s a question with a self-evident answer. Or at least, that it’s pretty settled.

Okay, so you’d mostly be right. But our book club just finished reading Alan Jacobs’ book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, in which he argues pretty vigorously for dissociating reading from academic life: that is, that it is something that ought to be done under the sign of Whim, for pleasure, rather than as a means to some other end. Academic ends included.

So, that’s had me asking afresh: why do I read to my kids? As I’ve run through my own mental inventory, I’m pretty sure I can rule out some of the standard “academic” reasons:

  • ensuring they’ll be the smartest or most well-read kids in their class (or at least grade-level proficient)
  • expanding their vocabulary for that SAT/ACT looming in 12 years
  • preparing for a future of success

But I do want them to learn to love books, and I feel pretty strongly they need to be educated to do this. So, as always, I have to thank C.S. Lewis. I ran across this eminently helpful passage this afternoon in the “Men Without Chests” section of The Abolition of Man. I may just copy it out and put it on my fridge.

Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful.

And further along:

Let us suppose for a moment that the harder virtues could really be theoretically justified with no appeal to objective value. It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.

I know of no better school for the emotions than literature. It’s where we get to try on other peoples’ eyes – and therefore their feelings, perspectives, coloring of the world. It’s where we get to feel things that might overwhelm us in real life, and practice our responses. It’s where we can see what happens when the emotions are untrained, or trained wrongly: Lydia Bennet, anyone?

And that, among many other reasons, is why I read to my kids. How about you?


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