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Suzanne Perez Tobias: Sometimes it pays to read children the whole book

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, at 9:48 p.m.

My 15-year-old daughter, Hannah, was reminiscing recently about elementary school — studying for tests in biology, world history, Spanish and algebra while reading “Lord of the Flies” will do that to a person — and I asked her what she remembered, specifically, from those early years.

She listed several things: classmates, playground games, songs from the character education CDs one of her teachers played:

Think before you act,

Eat healthy foods so you’ll grow,

Mind your parents,

Oh oh oh … Every day …

You need SELF-CONTROL,

Having self-control will help you meet your goals,

Oh oh oh …

She remembered having to sit on carpet squares and hating it because “they weren’t even with the rest of the floor.”

She recalled saving hundreds of dollars worth of reward “money” for good behavior in second grade but being unable to buy what she really wanted in the classroom store — an Arthur stuffed toy — because another girl grabbed it first.

She remembered crying one day in kindergarten when a substitute teacher told her to stop twirling in her favorite purple dress. And then she cried again, later that same day, after she spelled “swimming” with one “m” and the teacher said no, that isn’t quite right.

Not right?! How can that be?

But that doesn’t make sense!

Agony.

Heartbreak.

Children’s memories are random, vivid things.

But Hannah’s favorite and most concrete memory from all of elementary school, she said, was the day her first-grade teacher’s son — a college student at the time — visited and read aloud to the class.

He read “Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook,” but not just two or three chapters.

He read the whole thing — the entire book — in one long, glorious, uninterrupted circle time.

“You never did that,” Hannah said, not accusatory but matter-of-fact.

“What do you mean? I read to you guys all the time,” I replied, trying not to sound defensive. “Every night.”

“You read one or two chapters at bedtime, sometimes three,” Hannah said. “Brock read the whole book at one time, and I couldn’t believe it. It was literally one of the happiest days of my life.”

She recalled sitting there as he read, assuming each time a chapter ended that he inevitably would close the book and say, “Well, that’s it for today, kids. So long!”

Hannah figured he had places to go, people to see.

“I mean, he was in college,” she said. “I just assumed he had more important things to do.”

But he stayed. And he started another chapter. And another. And Hannah realized that this super-cool college student really was going to sit there in her teacher’s chair and read a whole entire Junie B. Jones book out loud to the class.

The whole thing.

It was, to hear her tell it, magic.

Fortunately, I managed to swallow the lump of guilt in my throat — Aaack! Why didn’t I read more?? Why didn’t I ever read her a whole book in one sitting?! — and I just treasured Hannah’s story for what it was: a sweet, captivating, marvelous memory.

Not every souvenir of her childhood will include me — or even reflect very well on my parenting — and that’s OK.

There are plenty that will.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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