How Not To Read Aloud to Kids
Want to make your children hate books forever? Here are some tips to keep them from reading—or, for book-loving parents, pitfalls to avoid
Parents, let me share a little secret. You needn’t read to your children at all. They have Angry Birds to play on your iPhone and New Super Mario Brothers to play on their DS. And studies show that by the time today’s 3-year-old has graduated from high school, the Spiderman movie franchise will have been rebooted 47 times. Your child is probably sexting right now. There is really no point to my explaining to you how not to read to your child, but I am going to do it anyway, in the Talmudic tradition of being pointlessly argumentative.
1. Do not set aside 15 minutes to read each day.
If you set aside 15 minutes to read each day, at bedtime or before bath, you will turn reading together into a habit. You know what kind of people have habits? Junkies.
2. Don’t read with expression.
God forbid you sound animated or engaged in what you’re reading. Read like an emotionless robot. Kids love robots. Don’t go slowly for the suspenseful parts or speed up for the scary parts or do voices for the characters or take dramatic pauses. Do you want to make things comprehensible for your child? Of course not. Strive for a rapid-fire, emotionless huminah-huminah-huminah. Pretend you’re davening in Kovno in 1872.
3. Don’t consider reading an opportunity for interaction.
Do not ask your child questions like, “How would you feel if you were K’tonton?” or “Can you imagine what it would feel like to fall into a vat of sticky, disgusting chopped fish?” or “If you were in the story, what would you do about the giant chopping-knife problem?” Reading to a child is like walking past a rabid dog. Do not engage. Don’t even look at the child while you’re reading to create a connection or ensure that he’s following along. Keep your eyes glued to the text. Read as quickly as you can, as if trying to get through your Torah portion at Temple Beth El in 1989.
4. Choose books that reflect who you want your child to be, not who your child actually is.
Do you remember that New York Times piece about parents not wanting their early elementary-school-age children to read picture books, because they should be reading chapter books? Emulate those parents! God forbid our children cuddle on our laps and find pure pleasure in the interplay of words and images. We are Jews, and we have to push our children or they’ll wind up going to a state school. Picture books are for the goyim. We know life is suffering, and the earlier we instill this lesson by depriving our children of things they enjoy, like picture books, the better.
5. Choose books full of lyrical description.
Plot, schmot. Propulsive narrative, amusing dialogue, and tight sentences are for suckers. What you want is long paragraphs full of descriptions of rocks, or maybe wheat. Try to find books that capture the prose style of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton. But keep on your toes. Some children actually like poetic nature writing. My older daughter Josie was smitten by Elizabeth Enright’s Gone-Away Lake books, which are bursting with shimmering carpets of reeds and plumed pampas grass like flowered shawls and great bursts of scarlet Oriental poppies, until frankly I just wanted to pave everything. Josie could happily luxuriate in language until the cows came home, and if Elizabeth Enright were writing about the cows, there would be five paragraphs about their soulful long-lashed eyes and soft fur, or whatever it is cows have. But Josie couldn’t handle interpersonal conflict or scariness in books—even mild tension, even in picture books. My younger daughter, Maxine, had no patience for tumbling vines of nouns and lovely adjectives, but from a very early age she loved suspense. The moral: Pay attention to what your particular children like so you can refrain from giving it to them.
6. Only read books on paper.
All the best sorts of people are bemoaning the prevalence of technology in our lives. Your takeaway: Only books with pages are good. It’s true that in many locales you can check out library books on your iPhone and therefore always have something to read with your child when you’re stuck on the subway or in a pediatrician’s waiting room that contains only one ripped issue of Highlights for Children and a cholera-covered bead maze. And it’s true that sharing an audiobook can be delightful during the drive to Hebrew school or soccer practice. But this is the coward’s way. To acknowledge that books can be enjoyed in digital form is to take one step closer to welcoming our robot overlords. The nuanced perspective would be to say that while many books, including picture books, work better on paper, there are still applications for technology in our lives. But nuance is the kind of thing that leads to people saying you are a self-hating Jew who despises Israel.
7. Never let fathers read to their children.
Our people have struggled far too long under the weight of the stereotype that Jewish men are sedentary, bookish nerds. Fathers must fight this negative image by restricting their interaction with their children to hurling spheres at their heads. If fathers model reading and show pleasure in reading to their children, especially to their sons, it can lead to unholy things like majoring in literature.
There is a very good reason that over 95 percent of elementary-school teachers are women, and that reason is to ensure that boys associate reading with femininity and boringness. It is HaShem’s will.
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