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Snapshots: “Delicious rhythms”

Recently when our ten-year-old son was asked to name his favorite book, he said promptly, “I have thousands of favorites,” and proceeded to describe his room as if he were living in a small crack between bookshelves — the pleasant problem of the voracious reader. Madison’s bookshelves span a decade of evolving interests and travels — picture and chapter books, texts on batteries and computers, poetry, mysteries, even a tome on the Hawaiian alphabet.

When a man I met recently said his grandfather awakened him as a boy by reciting poetry, giving him a lifelong appetite for delicious rhythms in his ears, I changed my method of waking Madison up. No more chipper greetings, no more buzzing clocks. Now I attend his sleeping bedside for ten minutes every school day before he needs to rise, reading Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, Emily Dickinson, even Wallace Stevens (whom I am finally beginning to understand). Gradually, he rouses on his own. I like imagining what “filters down” into deep consciousness. We don’t “discuss the poems” at breakfast, but after a few weeks of my reading them, he began saying, “I really liked those poems today, could you repeat them soon again?” or, “All day that poem came into my mind.” I feel gratified and would strongly suggest to other parents this simple method of helping children “wake up with literature” as well as go to sleep with it. It is our happy task to find as many comfortable ways we can to make enduring words an essential part of all our lives.

From the March/April 1997 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Family Reading.

Naomi Shihab Nye About Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet and author of books including The Turtle of Oman, Habibi, This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World, and A Maze Me: Poems for Girls. Her latest book is Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners (Greenwillow).

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