Making Memories through Reading Together
by Rachel Dodge
“You know you are so fond of reading out loud, Anne.” –Diana Barry, Anne of Green Gables
Many of my favorite family memories from childhood center around the books we read out loud together. My mother read the Little House books to us on repeat—they were our doctor’s office books, our naptime books, our cozy winter evening books, our chicken pox books. We adventured through The Tripods trilogy on Sunday mornings before church, laughed with Ramona Quimby over summer break, and entertained ourselves with dozens and dozens of books on family car trips.
Now that I’m a parent, I’ve continued the tradition. This past summer, I read the Little House books to my kids. In the spring, during lockdown, we laughed ourselves silly as we read through all 28 of the Junie B. Jones books on our lunch breaks from distance learning. Looking back, I know those two series will stick in our memory banks as our “COVID-19” books.
Over the years, we’ve read The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, and most of Roald Dahl’s books several times. Our car trips are punctuated with audio book memories along the highways of California and the roundabouts of England, listening to the Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins books by Beverly Cleary. Our family can only say, “Oh, Ribsy!” in Neil Patrick Harris’ Henry voice and “Ramo-ona!!” in Stockard Channing’s Beezus voice. And we won’t soon forget staying up late to read “just one more chapter” of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on quiet, lamplit evenings in the English countryside a few summers ago.
But reading out loud isn’t just for small children. If the current audio book craze has taught us anything, it’s that we all love to be read to! And one of the best ways to build relationships is through reading together.
Young and old, we all benefit from reading out loud with friends and family members. The shared experience of reading together creates special connections that bond us together in a unique way. Storytelling is at the heart of most cultures and civilizations. Why? Because stories bring us together.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus used stories to explain the heart of God and the way of salvation. When Jesus told stories, crowds pressed in close. His parables drew people in. He didn’t speak in grandiose theological terms; instead, He spoke about harvest, livestock, fishing, and food. Jesus knew He could tell us so much more with a story than He could with a speech.
Stories get to the heart of things. They go deep and stick with us. While we might forget concepts and abstract ideas, we remember stories. When we listen to stories together, we talk about them, remember them, and retell them. We laugh, cry, and nod along. We stop to interrupt, to explain, to ponder. We sit on the edges of our seats, waiting to see what will happen next.
This holiday season, there are a lot of things that will probably look different for most of us. We may not get to do all the things we traditionally do this time of year. And yet, during these uncertain times, we’re craving relationships and connection more than ever. Take some time now to think ahead about ways you can create new traditions and special memories with your friends and loved ones.
People used to read books, articles, sermons, serials, and letters to one another in the evenings. With everyone staying at home more than usual this year, consider challenging your family members or housemates to turn off and put away all digital devices for one night each week or for a half hour before bed on weeknights. Spend that time reading books together. It’s togetherness that we’re longing for, and bonding over great stories can help make this holiday season the best one yet.
One final tip: If you’re reading out loud at home, don’t worry about trying to herd everyone together first. Just start reading to one person and everyone else will drift over to listen.
Rachel Dodge is an English professor and the author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can visit her online at www.RachelDodge.com.
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