Books are infinitely more than words on a page -- they’re soul food for our families. Bio/adoption/foster mom Lauren Jones examines why shared reading time is so important for bonding with each and every child.
By Lauren Jones | Treasured Kids
There was once a (not so little) eight-year-old staying with us. It feels like ages ago now, but in reality, it was just last year. He had enough caregivers in his short life, and had dealt with the system enough, to know better than to trust me. I was in no way his Mom. He spent his days actively avoiding me, even jumping out of the way if I got too physically close. I was just the middle person for a bit, and so I could take it; I knew he would soon have people in his life that were invested in him for the long term. But it was still, well… odd.
Most days we could make it through until bedtime, until one night in particular we hit a wall. I asked if he wanted me to read him a story. “No, thank you,” he said. It felt like a door had been shut. I let it be. The next night his response was the same, but it had been a rough day for him… and I know the power a book can have to turn things around. So I sat down, in the hallway, and starting to read out loud. It was The Day The Crayons Quit. No interest. The night after, my husband did the same. And this time, the book got a few curious glimpses from that (not so little) eight-year-old.
By the end of the week, The Day the Crayons Quit had become a special, requested ritual. The inklings of trust were forming. He soon confided in us that his favourite part of the book was that all the colors of crayons got to do and be what they wanted. When we packed up his things, I -- with little stealth, and a lot of tears -- slid the book in on top of his clothes before I zipped up his suitcase.
2018 will mark our fourth year as a foster home in the United States. I'm more than a bit surprised by this. I’m surprised by how we keep doing it, and by how it's shaped our family culture. The week after The Day the Crayons Quit left our house in that suitcase, we started our very own non-profit organization: Treasured Kids. Its goal is to ensure that every child in foster care in the United States has an heirloom quality book to call their own.
Our system is simple: we collect and curate high quality new books, pair them with children in care, wrap them up, and ship them directly to the kids. We've shipped more than 250 since we began. Think books like The Book with No Pictures, The Little Engine that Could, Nobody Likes a Goblin, The Girl who Drank the Moon, Dear Zoo, and a few dozen Elephant and Piggie books.
Talking about reading and its importance for bonding feels tricky to write about in a way that’s fresh; as I sit down to do just that, it already feels like it’s been done. Sarah Mackenzie at Read Aloud Revival has been blowing this horn for years. Her new book, The Read Aloud Family, will be released in March and narrows in on just this topic. In the classic The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease advocates this with fervor. Julie Bogart of Bravewriter has always screamed from the rooftops about the importance of connection with our kids through literature.
Homeschoolers across the globe know and love books. They love to read! Yet somehow, even with all of this, I think us mammas (and dads!) on the ground, the ones doing the reading, sometimes forget why. Why do we read to our kids? Why, exactly, is it such a big deal?
If you were waiting for bullet point answers to those questions, they aren't here. I really, honestly, don't even know how to write those. But here's what I do know. As a foster mom, I know what it looks like when kids aren't read to. I know what it feels like to hear from a little one you love: “Oh, that's the place you get bikes!” when you pass the library.
I've watched over and over and over again how a story as simple as Goodnight Gorilla can bring some peace to a two-year-old in the midst of an hour-long, trauma-induced fit. I've cried alongside my kids through The Cricket in Times Square.
Books do something to us -- at every age -- that hits us deep in our soul. Their pages hold more than just a story or a plot or a cast of characters that develop or don't develop at a pace we enjoy. They hold the wonder of something magically different, like the fantasy of of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, or the world toppling in A Long Walk to Water or Every Falling Star.
They help you imagine what animal you would get when you write to the zoo requesting one, or what the possibilities could be in a world where any crayon color gets to follow its dreams. All these stories are more than words on a page. They are an escape; they are a safe place to process, to heal, and to bond. Books can be that buffer between a really hard thing and a really good thing.
Recently we cared for a three-year-old girl for short period of time. She was having trouble attaching to a primary caregiver, using Mom and Dad as generic terms for any male and female adults. I’ll be honest: it was a hard few weeks. I struggled to connect and found myself irritated with behaviors appropriate for her age.
Then one early morning, we were very rushed... and I was trying to get this little girl to school before the bell. In the midst of grumbling to myself about how this sort of thing is why we homeschool our own kids, I picked up her backpack and was shocked to find it so heavy. I opened it. Inside, I discovered book after book after book that she had taken off our shelves and wanted to show her teacher.
I found The Very Busy Spider and Chirri and Chirra and Goodnight Moon, among others. I took some out -- just enough that she could stand up straight -- and sent her on her way with the rest. That night, we unpacked all the books and read them. The books stayed in her bed as she slept, and the next morning, she carefully slid them back into her backpack. The following night, we read them again. They stayed in her bed again. And then went back in her backpack. And repeat. Every day. When she left us, we sent her with all the books she could manage so that even in a different bed, she would have a constant. She’d have those books tucked right in beside her. And that, I do know, is life-changing.
What are some of your favourite books to read that help you bond in a unique way? Comment below and let us know!
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Lauren is a Bio/Adoption/Foster Care Homeschooling Mama of four kids age nine and under! If you can't find her adventuring in the mountains or baking in the kitchen, Lauren is probably scouring vintage shops for beautiful books. As a family, they founded Treasured Kids, an organisation that gets beautiful books into the hands of treasured foster kids in the US. You can follow Lauren at @mixingplaydough on Instagram.