It’s no great secret that reading aloud to children helps them become better readers, more excited about literature, better learners, and so on. It also creates great bonds between children and parents or students and teachers. As I’ve talked to people about my Christmas book The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (available in paperback on October 25), I’ve heard many, many stories about families who read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol aloud every year. Yes, there is something wonderful about parents and teachers reading aloud to children.
But recently, I’ve discovered another level of wonderful when it comes to story time. I spent more than a decade working as a children’s playwright—seeing children work with my words on an almost daily basis. My plays have been published and performed in thousands of productions around the world, but I no longer have that daily interaction with young people. I missed writing for kids, so I decided to try my hand at a middle school book. When I had gotten about three-quarters of the way through the first draft, my wife and I traveled to Canterbury, England for a week. Some of the middle-schoolers from our church were singing in the choir in residence at the cathedral, and we came along to help out.
Pretty soon, the word got out that I had been working on this book, and that my wife had read the first two chapters aloud to a couple of the kids on the car ride from our cottage in Kingham over to Canterbury. The next thing I knew, we had a regular routine: choir practice at 4:00, Evensong at 5:00, followed by dinner. Then, sometime between dinner and bedtime, a motley assortment of folk, both children and adults, would show up at our hotel room and we would have story time. It only took one session of reading my words aloud to these kids to remember why I liked writing for children so much. The look in their eyes was more than I needed to motivate me to write the rest of the book as soon as I got home.
Since then we’ve had story time at choristers’ houses, in the lounge at church, even at Chick-fil-A (as pictured above)—wherever we could meet to read the last chapters. Wherever we met, kids who had not been in Canterbury would tag along, and listen entranced to the end of a story they had not heard the beginning of. I don’t think it’s because of my brilliant skills as a reader or as a writer—I think it’s because something magical happens when an adult reads to a child, and that magic is special in a whole new way when that adult is NOT a teacher or a parent. These weren’t my kids, so the fact that I took time to read to them meant something.
So do this—I promise you’ll get much more than you give: Go read to some kids. Do it at school or in a bookstore or wherever you can. Read them whatever you want to read, including (maybe especially) your own words. When I was reading one of the last chapters of The Book of the Seven Spells aloud in a lounge at church and a child I had never met before was wide eyed and practically sitting in my lap while equally enthralled adults looked on, there was only one word for it: Magic!