River Dad, Goodnight Moons

Each morning at Tappan Hill Kindergarten begins with a question posted outside the classroom door. The kids try to read the question and then answer it by sticking a Polaroid photo of themselves with their name on it in either the “Yes” or “No” column.

imagesIt’s a brilliant multi-tasking time-saver that both engages the child’s brain and takes classroom attendance. The question can be anything from “Did you bring lunch from home today?” to “Is there a Q in your name?” to “Do you love Mommy more than Daddy?”

Recently, when dropping off my daughter, I saw that the question was “Did somebody read to you last night?” My daughter grabbed her photo/identification card, slotted it in the “yes” column, and bounced into class without so much as saying goodbye. This was an easy question for her, as we’ve been reading to our kids every night since they were about three months old. Granted, they didn’t understand a word we were saying for the first few weeks, but by six or seven months, they were correcting our grammar and mocking my California accent.

As I turned to leave, I noticed the class-wide results of the question — nearly half of the kids had slotted their pictures in the “No” column. They could have been lying, but I started thinking about the notion that there might be kids out there who didn’t partake of this time-honored task. Then I wondered — Why not?

The first possibility that sprang into my head was one of access.

It’s quite possible that there are kids out there who don’t have a grandparent who believes in giving a new book at each and every gift-giving opportunity.

“Happy Yom Kippur! Here’s a book.”

“We’re not Jewish, Nonna.”

“Just take the book!”

So if relatives aren’t shoving crates of books into a child’s life, and the parents are spending their hard-earned paycheck on frivolous things like rent and food, where can a young boy or girl find access to the wonderful world of literature? I thought about it for awhile until I hit upon an idea.

There are these things called libraries.

Turns out, both the Warner Library in Tarrytown and the Irvington Library have fantastic children’s sections. Any Village resident can sign up, get a library card, and take books home for absolutely nothing. If you don’t know what books to check out, the librarians are there to rescue you. They literally leap at the chance to recommend books to people; it’s like a fetish of theirs.

But what if parents work long hours and don’t have the chance to hop down to the public library? Turns out, kids can do the heavy lifting for their parents without even leaving the comfort of their school! My daughter’s class visits the school library every week and each time they can bring home a new book. Just to make sure this wasn’t a Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow thing, I checked in with Dows Lane Elementary in Irvington. They’ve got a library, too, and all the kids visit it regularly and take home books and everything — just like in the Tarrytowns! So, basically, if a child is enrolled in public school in Irvington, Tarrytown, or Sleepy Hollow, they have access to books.

So if access isn’t the issue, why aren’t these kids getting read to?

It occurred to me that some parents might grow tired of the repetition. Children have the amazing ability to enjoy reading the same book, listening to the same song, or watching the same episode of Dora for weeks at a time, and this can cause some adults to bang their skulls against the countertop again and again in an attempt to get The Wiggles out of their head. Case in point — my daughter. We’ve been reading Goodnight Moon at the end of her reading time every night of her life for more than five years. Every. Night. I estimate around 1,900 times. Same damn book. I personally memorized it after about a week. My daughter had it down not long after. Yet we continue to read it, each and every night. Why, you ask? Well, aside from my obviously undiagnosed OCD, it’s become part of the ritual. We know the book so well now that we can play with it.

Experiment. I do voices. On Halloween, I read it as if it’s a creepy Edgar Allen Poe story.

"And goodnight to the little old lady whispering… HUSHHHHHHH. MUHAHAHAHA!"

My wife has perfected the talent of going through her mental list for the next day in her head while she reads aloud.

Reading to our kids has enabled me to experience (or in some cases re-experience) the marvelous world of Children’s Literature featuring The Brothers Grimm stories (the real ones, where bad guys wear scalding-hot leg irons or rip themselves in half), Mo Willems’ Pigeon, Eric Carle, Shel Silverstein, Dan Freeman’s Corduroy, and so many others. The first time through these new stories is always exciting for us both, and the eighteenth time through is still exciting to them. Truth be told, it wouldn’t matter if I read the phone book to my kids, ("Wibble. James S. 555-3737. Wibbslydell. Morgana E. 555-3838."

"Do the Z’s Daddy! Do the Z’s!") All that matters is that I’m in there, having that time with them.

So if you don’t already read to your kids, give it a shot. Tonight, instead of kissing them goodnight and closing the door, grab a book, or a magazine, or an instruction manual, hop onto their bed, and read to them. You don’t have to do voices. You don’t have to punctuate your reading with dramatic gestures or hand puppets. You don’t even have to like the book. Just read to them so they don’t put their picture in the "no" section in school.

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About the Author: David Neilsen