Two weeks ago my oldest son was feeding the dogs. They are big dogs, HUGE dogs (Newfies), and they love Ben so much they can’t help but want to climb all over him. Unfortunately, it was an icy day, and Ben somehow slipped and conked his forehead on the concrete patio. Ouch! He had a minor concussion, and the doctor said that he needed to stay home and in bed for the rest of the week, resting his brain and doing nothing: no homework, no computer games, no loud music, and . . . no reading!
Ben thought he would die of boredom. He didn’t mind the no homework rule, and his teachers were very understanding and kind, but the no reading rule just about drove him crazy. Finally, the doctor said it would be all right if Ben listened to an audiobook at low volume, and life was bearable again.
Recently I attended a literacy conference where the main focus was on reading to children. That was not new information, except that the presenters mentioned how much people of all ages benefit from hearing books read out loud. When Ben’s concussion prevented him from reading on his own, I thought of that conference and realized that we were already applying the suggestions the presenters made in our family.
Every time we drive the three hours down to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, or across the state, we always choose a book on tape or CD to listen to. Some lucky kids, my children have been known to complain, get to watch DVDs as they travel. But not mine. It’s not only that I don’t have a DVD player built into the car, but that I want to listen as well. Instead of a dreaded time of fighting and territory-claiming, a long car ride has become a time to share some wonderful books together.
One spring break we drove out to California to visit my cousin’s family. On the way there we listened to Eragon, and on the way home we heard an enchanting former Newbery Honor book by Nancy Bond, A String in the Harp, about a family’s experience in Wales. Those books colored our long drive and made the experience a pleasant one. Other books we’ve loved to listen to have been Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series, Hank the Cow Dog books, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, and Harry Potter’s long saga.
Recently we found that many libraries offer audiobooks to download or simply listen to on the computer from the library website. That discovery has made a happy addition to our morning routine. Now my youngest son, Will, curls up in front of the heater after the others have rushed off to early band practice and chemistry study hour. He turns on the latest installment of the book he’s listening to (right now it is Floors, by Patrick Carman), and he and I listen while he waits until it’s time to leave for school. Similarly, when Tom’s high school English class had the assignment of reading The Book Thief, we found it as an audiobook and he and I were able to listen to it and talk about it, and cry about it, together.
We have found a lot of benefits to listening to books together as a family. For example, we have shared memories to draw on that keep us close even as the boys seem to be squirting off into all directions as their lives become more layered with responsibilities and hard school classes. When we gather around the dinner table in the evening, we have more to talk about. Each person can relate present experiences to things we have shared as we’ve listened to books together. Surely we’re not the only strange family out there who enjoys listening to books together. What are some of your family favorites, and how has listening to books brought you closer to each other? It really doesn’t take a concussion to appreciate sitting back and quietly listening to a book. What do you think?