Our Reading Lives

Library Trips and Read-Alouds: Why I Treasure These Times With My Son

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

A few weeks ago, I opened up one of our library books to read to my son, when I saw a message inscribed in it. It was to someone named Alex and talked about how the book reminded them of the notes they would leave for the child before they went to work, and to keep reaching for the stars. The closing of the note read: “I love you very, very much, Daddy. Christmas, 1994.”

I am not a mushy person, but I almost cried. The note was so heartfelt, and maybe because I’m a parent now and know how much thought goes into notes to our kids, I wondered why Alex (or someone) would donate this book to the library, and under what circumstances this occurred. I wondered if the dad knew. I wondered how it got into circulation (typically used books are donated to this library for the book sale only). But it also got me thinking about parents, children, and the things we share. Books are a big part of my son’s and my life, and it got me wondering about what he takes from our love of books.

Our Library Love

As homeschoolers, we go to the library A LOT. Like, every week or so, getting at least 20–25 books at a time. We try to read 2–4 picture books a day, but now with camp, that doesn’t always happen. At night, before he goes to bed, we’ve started to read a chapter a night in either a Magic School Bus chapter book or in one of the Zoey and Sassafras books.

My son got his own library card last summer, and he’s still amazed that he can go in, pick any book he wants, and go home with it. He brings his little tote bag and walks up and down the children’s aisles, choosing his books. (It’s always funny to me, the ones he chooses — it’s neat seeing what he picks). The novelty of the library has yet to wear off, especially since they also have crayons to take home, along with coloring sheets and “take and make” crafts that change every week.

Going to the library is one of our “things,” and we often stop at Starbucks to take home “pumpkin woaf” afterward. It makes me think of my own trips to the library and to bookstores with my grandparents, how I can still remember sitting in the aisles and picking books I wanted, and what a treat it was when I got to pick several books at a time at the bookstore. Those are some of my favorite memories, and I wonder if our library trips will be the same way for my son.

What About Our Read-Alouds?

That book inscription also got me wondering about our read-alouds. As I mentioned, we read several books a day. Since my son is 5, this means I mostly read them to him. I set them out on our dining room table the night before, and I know I’ve chosen a good one when I hear “ooohhhhh!” when he goes out there in the morning. Depending on our schedule, these can either start our day, be read while resting after camp, or during some down time after dinner.

As he’s gotten older, he’s a more active participant — reading words he knows, repeating key lines of the story, and asking questions. He snuggles up next to me, sometimes laying his head on my arm, and I know these days will be over before I know it, although I hate when people tell me that.

I know what I’ll remember from all of this. I’ve written about how books helped us communicate when he was younger, and I’ll always look back and laugh at the time I found him stacking a pile of his books and then pretending to take a picture of them with his Fisher-Price cell phone, after seeing me do the same for an Instagram picture. When he read his first BOB book by himself, I remember how his smile was a mile wide, and how he insisted on reading it to each of his grandparents over Skype and FaceTime.

But besides all of the benefits of reading aloud to kids, what will he carry in his heart from this? Will he see a book we read often — We Are Water Protectors or I Talk Like a River — years and years from now and be transported back to our easy homeschool mornings with the light coming through the blinds and the smell of my coffee in the air? When he drives by the library, will he smile, remembering our many trips and the crafts we made? How many more years of this do I have before he decides he’s “too old” to do this with me? If he has kids of his own, will he read from a book I gave to him from one of the many birthdays or holidays, possibly inscribed with a message?

I don’t know. And that’s okay. For now, we have a whole new stack of library books to get through.