My parents divorced when I was two, and my dad shortly remarried. My mom, a brother from a previous marriage (who I would grow up calling brother), and I moved to Springfield, my dad, stepmom (who I would later also call mom), and her son (who I would also grow up calling brother) moved to Little Rock. So one dad, two moms, and two brothers. Years later, my dad and stepmom (mom) would have a son (the third brother). There’s not a quiz later so if you can’t keep all of this straight, don’t sweat it, it took me a few years to get it all figured out and I was right in the middle of it all.
My mom, like most mothers, would always read to me at night before I’d go to bed. Most of the time, we’d read The Little Red Caboose or one of the others from my library of Golden Books. Although I don’t remember it, she says that The Little Red Caboose was the first book that I ever “read” when I was two or three. I don’t know if I actually read the book or if I memorized it, but it’s a great little book, so I’ll take either.
Over two hundred miles separated my two families, so most of my weekends while I was growing up were spent on the road. Sometimes, my grandparents would drive from Fayetteville to Springfield and pick me up and drive back to Fayetteville. Meanwhile, my dad the other half of my family would drive from Little Rock to Fayetteville, and we’d all spend the weekend together at my grandparents’ house.
My grandparents were both professors and avid readers and they had an entire library of books. Some of which they actually wrote or co-wrote themselves. While most of the books were well out of my age range, they definitely had books on any given subject. Given that they were amazing grandparents, they had a small section of their library of books dedicated to me. My favorite book at their house was The Little Engine that Could a short read, but good none the less.
So I’d go from the caboose at my mothers’ house to the engine at my grandparents’ house. Each book would touch on the cars in-between the engine and the caboose, but little did I know that there was even more of a story in-between.
Shortly after moving to Little Rock, my parents’ quickly became friends with another family that lived in the neighborhood – the Cooks. They had a son, Michael, that was my age and he was just as interested in Transformers, He-Man, and GI Joe as I was. We quickly became the best of friends. I spent just as much time (if not more) time at their house as I did my dads. Why? Dad was finishing up med school and was well, busy. The Cooks were like a third family to me. Our family became so close to them that a few years later, we would name my little brother (Scott) after the father of the family – Mr. Scott Cook. I also became friends with their two twin daughters (Casey and Jamie) but not too close of friends at the time, because I was five, and ew… girls.
Other than giving me countless gifts and life lessons that come with a family friendship – especially during some of the most significant years of my childhood – for my fifth birthday, the Cooks introduced me to my first “chapter book” - The Boxcar Children.
Finally, a book about what’s between the engine and the caboose, and even more exciting. Chapters! I still have that book today – sitting between my Shel Silverstein books and my other Boxcar Children books.
From the caboose to the engine, and everything in between, due to some dedicated parental units, I was hooked and stepped on the reading train. I’ve been riding down the tracks for years, and I never plan on getting off.
Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.
If you have a child in your life and you’re not reading to them or encouraging them to read, you’re doing it wrong. It’s plain and simple. Giving the gift of reading is one of the most powerful things that you can do to enhance a child’s’ life.
If you can’t afford books, get a library card – they’re usually always free.
If your child absolutely refuses to unplug and drop their digital device, grab the Kindle app (it works on any iOS device, tablet, computer, etc.) and download some digital books for them.
While you’re finding something for them; why not find something for yourself to read too? Remember that old, “I learned it by watching you” anti-drug commercial? It’s like that, parents who read have children that read.
Books can take you anywhere, it’s just your job to open the cover.