“Reading Is a Joy That Encourages Our Children”
Parents’ passion to read puts them in a unique position to pass it on to their children.
I believe that the means to encourage a flowering in the neglected inner lives of children will always be exposure to literature and the arts. In short, I believe the key is to be found in reading books.
The first step in reviving dialogue where human bonds and communication have broken down is to revitalize and infuse the written and spoken word with the light of spirituality. Literary masterpieces are the ideal vehicle for this endeavor.
—Daisaku Ikeda, from Soka Education, p. 64
by Monte Joffee and Etta Sue Henderson
SGI-USA PARENTS GROUP LEADERS
Beverly Cleary, the beloved and award-winning author of children’s books, celebrated her 100th birthday in 2016. It was an event that caught the attention of multiple newspaper reporters, many of whom grew up reading her works, their childhoods enriched by meeting unforgettable fictional characters such as Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, Ralph Mouse and Leigh Botts. Ms. Cleary wrote her stories with the hope that “children should learn that reading is pleasure, not just something that teachers make you do in school.”
Her favorite audience was third-and fourth-graders. For these children, she invented a genre of writing, funny and optimistic at the core, based on three-dimensional children working out real-life problems. “I didn’t start out writing to give children hope,” she has said, “but I’m glad some of them found it.”
Her stories were inspired by memories drawn from her own childhood, her career as a children’s librarian, her experience raising twin children and even from her fan letters. We live in a far more complicated world but the sense of security and community Ms. Cleary projects still reverberates with the hearts of children today.
Even one chance encounter with a book can transform a child’s life.
“We didn’t have television in those days, and many people didn’t even have radios. My mother would read aloud to my father and me in the evening.” Ms. Cleary advises parents: “Read aloud to your children and let them see you enjoying books. Children want to do what the grown-ups do.”
Ms. Cleary’s own love of reading blossomed on a rainy, boring day when, as a resistant third-grade reader, she came across a copy of Lucy Fitch Perkins’ The Dutch Twins. As an only child, she became fascinated by the lives of twins who could never be lonely.
Ms. Cleary read for hours and hours, and then immediately picked up the sequel, The Swiss Twins. She recalled years later: “Suddenly, I was reading and enjoying what I read! It was a miracle. I was happy in a way I had not been happy since starting school.”
Indeed, SGI President Ikeda shares of the power of reading:
Reading [as a family] the same books and sharing reactions not only promotes heart-warming communication between parents and children but is also an important form of home education offering precious spiritual sustenance to children in a natural, unforced way. It also helps children learn about family sentiments and attitudes toward the world. At times it can also be a source of discoveries and surprises for parents. It’s a way in which parents and children can learn and grow together.
Today, television and the internet have made their way into the family, too, but it is impossible to stress too heavily the importance of reading. The decline of the culture of the printed word can be seen as leading ultimately to the destruction of humanity itself. A popular saying, sometimes attributed to Cicero, tells us that a “room without books is like a body without a soul.” (Living as Learning: John Dewey in the 21st Century, p. 19)
Parents should read together with their children, even well past the time a child has outgrown picture books. As a family, they should discuss together the book’s contents. As such, it’s important to keep around the house books that fit the age and reading abilities of their children.
As Beverly Cleary demonstrated, even one chance encounter with a book can transform a child’s life—and leave a lasting impact on society as well.