One of the reasons I love reading so passionately is that I firmly believe that books can permanently change your outlook on life. Recently, I've been thinking about the books that had the most impact on me, and I've realized I read most of them between the ages of 9 and 14. I've forgotten many of the books I've read within the past year, but I still think often about things I learned from Anne of Green Gables, the Little House on the Prairie series, or short stories that I read and re-read from the seventh grade English textbook my mom taught from. I admit I remember very little of what I read in my English classes during that time period, except some of the historical novels, like The Endless Steppe and The Trumpeter of Krakow, which expanded my view of world history. (I could make a point here about why it's so much more important to let students read freely instead of forcing their attention to required reading and state test exam questions. That, however, is a post for another day- maybe a day when my students aren't in the midst of yet another exam. Wait, when will that day come?)
One book that has stuck with me for twenty years or more is Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it's a true account of the authors' parents, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, who raised a dozen children in the 1910s and 1920s, and ran a business in which they taught companies how to run their factories and businesses with extreme efficiency. The book is full of anecdotes about how these bright and creative parents managed their large brood with the same efficiency and assembly-line mentality as their business models, and yet still made room for fun, education, and special time with each child.
My ten-year-old (or possibly younger) brain absorbed many things from this book. I learned that it's possible to be a strict parent, but also know when to break the rules; that all children, even siblings, are incredibly unique individuals; that "efficiency" means doing a job with as little wasted time and motion as possible; that finding the most efficient way to work means more time for happier pursuits; and that every moment is an opportunity for education. Maybe I'm thinking about these lessons so much recently because they're more useful to me now that I'm about to become a parent than they were when I was a kid myself. But I wonder if the lessons are more ingrained, more a part of myself, than they would be if I had read the book this year instead of when I was ten. I think they are. Because of this book's impact, I've spent twenty years thinking about efficiency, seizing educational opportunities, and creative parenting- way more time than I've spent pondering actually being a parent myself. And so I conclude that the books we read as children have much more impact on our worldview than the books we read now.
I hope my son will be a reader. I'll do everything in my power to encourage it, because the gifts that books have brought me have been immeasurable, and the ways they molded my thinking and made me question the world have been invaluable.