Post Sponsored by Kathleen Palley and The Children’s Book Review
Bonding with Books
How do books strengthen the mother/child bond?
Most mothers vividly remember holding their new bundle of joy in their arms for the first time and looking into those eyes as that little mouth latched onto the source of food and life itself – MOM. Midwives urge mothers to begin to nurse as soon as possible after birth in order to strengthen the bond between mother and baby. The food we give not only sustains life, but also helps mother and baby to fall in love with each other. But mothering involves much more than feeding our children’s physical bodies – it also involves feeding their little hearts and souls. And what do hearts and souls need to thrive?
Goodness, of course, and what better way to feed goodness than by reading a good book. Just as feeding our children’s bodies builds a bond between mother and child, so does feeding their souls – it is a way of connecting heart to heart.
As world literacy expert, Mem Fox, says,” the fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading – not the book alone.” When I talk to children about stories, I will often liken them to journeys, and just as journeys involve a movement from one place to another, so too does a story also involve a movement – a movement of the heart to feel something – the word emotion means a movement from the heart. When we read books that we love to our children, then we will naturally breathe our own life and love, spirit and soul into those words as we read aloud. In turn those words will seep into our little listeners’ souls – a meeting of hearts.
So what “emotional sparks” shower mother and child when they share a good book?
After over 20 years of reading aloud at an inner city school to children from Kindergarten to 7th grade, and after a life time of savoring good books that stir my soul and make my heart sing, here are some of my favorite “emotional sparks,” some threads of goodness that tie mother and child closer together.
Good books reveal characters who love, and the love I mean is not the sappy, soppy stuff of Hollywood, it is the nitty, gritty, sacrificial love that every parent knows full well – the kind of love that makes a spider called, Charlotte lay down her life for her friend, a pig, called Wilbur.
Good books are rooted in love – most writers, at least children’s writers, are writing about something they have loved in the world and want to share with their readers. E.B. White said, “All I want to say in books, all I ever wanted to say, is I LOVE THE WORLD.”
A wise African proverb tells us, “What we teach a child to love is more important than what we teach a child to learn.” When we read good books to our children, we are teaching them to love some bolt of beauty or some whiff of wonder that has touched another’s heart. We are teaching them to love….GOODNESS.
I keep this magnet in my kitchen as a reminder to try to see the world anew each day with fresh eyes and a fresh heart – with the wonder of a child.
“Show me a day when the world wasn’t new” Sister Barbara
This wonder, this “not knowing,” is of course rather countercultural in our age of google and Wikipedia and some even fear it is fast being eroded, but good books provide the perfect antidote.
Good books foster a sense of wonder in our children and in ourselves. In her book, “In search of Wonder,” Katherine Paterson describes four different types of Wonder that a good book can foster.
The Wonder of Nature
Paterson tells us that C. S. Lewis was so enchanted with Squirrel Nutkin as a child, that he felt as if he wanted to possess Autumn itself. “He went back to the book again and again, not to gratify the desire (that would be impossible, for how can one possess autumn?) but to reawaken it”
The Wonder of Human Nature – characters
(Do not need to be actual humans, just animal characters who display human traits of kindness, courage, or compassion)
Some of my favorites – Amos and Boris by William Steig featuring a “mighty mote” of a mouse, that endearing mole from David McPhail’s Mole Music, who displays such tenacity and determination to make his music, and that plucky heroine, Brave Irene, by William Steig, who braves a blizzard to help her dear mother.
The Wonder in the telling –language and style
Some adults mistakenly assume that picture books should only contain words that are part of the average 4 or 5 year olds vocabulary. But picture books are meant to be read aloud by an adult to a child. It shouldn’t matter one whit if the child does not understand every single word. As long as the adult knows how to read aloud well with great love and vim and vigor, the child will eventually come to understand quite naturally any unfamiliar word. Look at some examples from these classic tales:
“It is said the effect of eating too much lettuce is soporific.” “Peter Rabbit”
“One night in a phosphorescent sea….” Amos and Boris
“One must sustain oneself.” Winnie the Pooh.
“The wonder behind and beyond the story…the meaning of this story that ties us to the mystery of the meaning of our lives and of all creation”
What a perfect description of the bonding that can happen between a mother and child as they experience the wonder of a good book – and how its goodness links literature to life like letters in a word, like words in a story. “As is a tale so is life, not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.” Seneca
Madeleine L’Engle maintained that all children’s books should be rooted in a sense of all wellness. She was referring to the words of the medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich, who said, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. On a very basic level, a child will feel this “all wellness,” as he sits in a lap, wrapped in loving arms, listening to the soothing cadence of language in a story or a song or a nursery rhyme. For we know the first sound a child hears in the womb is his mother’s heartbeat, and thus we are all naturally drawn to that rhythmic pattern. But on another level, this all wellness is not some Pollyanna disregard for the sadness in our lives, but rather a stalwart belief in what all good stories tell us – GOOD will triumph! G.K. Chesterton tell us, “Fairy tales don’t tell children that dragons exist. They already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell them that dragons can be killed.” That leads us to our next thread of goodness…
Good books encourage children to be brave, or kind, or loyal, or hopeful. The word courage comes from the French word, La Coeur, which means HEART. Good books help children to dig deep into their little hearts and find an inner strength to navigate the storms of life.
And of course the cumulative effect of all these emotional sparks and threads of goodness that are strengthening this mother/ child bond is….
My favorite definition of happiness is from the ancient Greeks who defined it as “the evolving of a soul,” and that is exactly what the job of mothering is all about, is it not? My most recent book, Happy Mamas, explores this theme of happiness and motherhood and that precious bonding moment at end of day – the cozy bedtime cuddle when all is well with the world! The idea for this book came from my many years of running – a mother daughter book club that gave me pause to ponder this relationship between mothering, goodness, and happiness.
We storytellers love our circles – long ago we sat around the fire in a circle to tell our stories, the ancient Celts used to worship the sun and the moon, and when St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, he placed their beloved circle around the Christian cross and so it became known as Celtic cross. And of course, most good picture books are circular, in some way they circle back to the beginning of the story, just like life –
So, just as I began my musings here with all that talk of a mother feeding her baby, so I will end now with more talk of feeding…
“Read like a wolf eats” – Gary Paulsen
How does a wolf eat? As if his very life depends upon it – because it does! And so when we read aloud to our children, we should also be reading as if their very lives depend upon it – because it does!
“I believe reading aloud cures pretty much everything from warts to global warming.” Mem Fox
Suggestions for further reading for Mothers:
Reading Magic by Mem Fox
A Sense of Wonder by Katherine Paterson
The End of Absence by Michael Harris
Some of my favorite read alouds (listen to them at https://kathleenpelley.com/story-telling/)
The Wild Boy by Mordicai Gerstein
Child of Faerie, Child of Earth by Jane Yolen
Brave Irene by William Steig
Amos and Boris by William Steig
The Quiet Place by Sarah Stewart
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