Like most mothers, my wife has gotten a little wistful over the years when she comes across tiny shirts, shorts or shoes that our children have long grown too big to wear. Seeing these earlier versions of our daughter and son reminds us of the small people they used to be.
I got a similar feeling last week when our son, who’s now 10, cleared his shelf of books he’s outgrown. Stacked near the door, waiting for donation to charity, was the “Geronimo Stilton” series - a line of stories in which the title character, a globe-trotting mouse, uses an intriguing mix of words and pictures to introduce kids to chapter books. Our teenage daughter had enjoyed the series before handing it down to her younger brother. In previous purges of the household library, once-treasured staples from Dr Seuss and Shel Silverstein had also sung their swan songs.
My son’s most recent stack of discards also included a collection of “Curious George” stories that I retrieved from the pile and returned to my own bookshelf. I first learned to read through “Curious George” many years ago, and the tales of a lively monkey whose inquisitiveness gets the best of him had also given my kids many hours of pleasure. I’ll save the book for a day in the far future when I might be able to share it with grandchildren.
Watching our children outgrow books has been a bittersweet thing. I lament the passing of days when our kids were small enough to rest in our laps for the hundredth rendition of “Green Eggs and Ham,” but I’ve also been gratified to see them grow into independent readers with rapidly maturing tastes.
There’s also comfort in knowing that as older children, our daughter and son can now encounter books they’ll never outgrow. I first read “Robinson Crusoe” when I was about my son’s age, and I still dip into its pages about every summer. Although widely marketed as a boys’ book, Daniel Defoe’s classic story of a tropical castaway embraces richly complicated themes that reward an adult’s attention. And while I first read “Aesop’s Fables” as a child, I treated myself to a new copy of the fables for my 40th birthday a few years ago. With age, I find myself needing the wisdom within these ancient allegories all the more.
Books can be outgrown, but the practice of reading should grow with us. Our son, like his big sister, now reads on his own, but as he looked over the books he’d culled from the shelf, he asked if I’d mind reading to him aloud this summer as I once did. I explained to him that even grown-ups enjoy hearing stories from time to time.
In a new book, “The Reading Promise,” recent college graduate Alice Ozma recalls that her father read aloud to her each night from the fourth grade until she left for college. As a result, Ozma remains an enthusiastic reader - and an impressive writer. That’s what reading can do, long after Dr Seuss has said goodbye.