Reading to kids: 5000 hours I will never regret

Books and Duplo blocks lie scattered on a wooden table. You can see a children's atlas, a book about dogs, Angry Animals from the Horrible Science series, two Geronimo Stilton books, a book about mythology, and The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jones.

Hi love. Hope you’re well.

For some reason I counted our bookshelves this morning. There were seventeen, including the tiny one in the cubby house. Seventeen full bookshelves. I am not joking.

You know, I once told your dad, “The only toys we’ll ever need are books and blocks.”

That was way back before any of you were born. I knew nothing about parenting then, I was naïve, but I got it right, didn’t I?

I know having kids might be far away in your future or not part of your life at all, and I’m fine with that. (I really am!) But children are everywhere, and here’s a thought I wanted to pass onto you.

I don’t know how many actual physical books you could find where you are. If you can get hold of one – read to any kid that will listen. And trust me, lots of them will. Just sit down with a picture book in hand, and you’ll be surrounded. I still do that when I work in the creche at church. There are toys everywhere, and play equipment outside, but when I open a book, someone always sidles up to listen and asks for more when it’s finished.

With you three, before you went to school – well, it was manic by the afternoon, and you probably remember I tried to avoid screens. I’d get a pile of books and start reading to the empty lounge-room, and you’d hear my voice and soon I’d have all of you tucked in around me, pointing at the pages, reciting along with me.

This was how you learned to read.

You knew Schnitzel von Krumm Forget Me Not off by heart, and you started to match the words in your mind with the words on the page. It seemed like a miracle, the first time you pointed to his name and said, “Is that Schnitzel?” I think the next word you learned was garden, then God from all the Bible stories, then your own name, and then dog. And then suddenly, you were reading whole books by yourself.

Two little girls are reading together in a bed. One is smiling at the camera, the other is pointing at something in the book Spot's First Walk.
© 1984, David Broughton.
You can’t read together without getting close.

I thought we had no time when you were all little; but it was nothing compared to later on when you were teenagers. Back then you were learning to manage daily tasks, and life was chaos, but you were always there. You were wrapped around my leg half the day.

And reading together seemed to fill your heart like nothing else; and mine, too. If you ever have your own kids, love, this is a foolproof way to connect: cuddle up together with a book, read, laugh, discuss, recall, quote and misquote. The closeness will echo through a lifetime. But you know that.

Books helped you centre yourself.

I know I come across as anti-screens (I don’t care!) and I know everyone needs to use them for work now. But I’ve seen you with a book in your hands, sniffing at its scent, rubbing your fingertips along the paper. Your whole body would relax when you read; your shoulders would ease down, and your forehead would unfrown.

There’s something soul-refreshing about a paper book. The marks on it are real and permanent; made with ink, not light. They won’t change and won’t move unless the page moves. Reading them rests your eyes and your mind.

And books widened your view.

How often can you see into another person’s mind? And is it often enough to understand them, to allow for different points of view and let go of anger and fear? But books helped you three to do that.

You ran from Mr MacGregor in Peter Rabbit’s little blue shoes, searched for lost memories with Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, and tended plants with Uno, hoping the forest would grow again. Even now you step into a new pair of shoes nearly every day, I’d guess. And it helps you and everyone you meet.

A bookshelf full of picture books, including The Eleventh Hour, Uno's Garden, Great Bible Stories, Sleeping Beauty, and a book of nursery rhymes
I knew I was doing something good, reading to you.

I had a to-do list longer than my arm, but that time with you was never a waste. However, no kudos to me – Grandma and Grandpa passed a love of reading to me the same way I passed it to you. It was always a given that books would fill our house.

So maybe the seventeen bookshelves won’t surprise you. Don’t ask me how many books there are. As for blocks, I could have counted the wooden ones, but I didn’t try with the Duplo and certainly not the Lego.

We love your emails and we understand you can’t tell us much because of confidentiality. If you’re extra busy, just a line is fine.

Lots of love from your Mum.

On behalf of kids everywhere, and myself, thanks for reading 😊

Feel free to comment below, connect with me on Facebook or Instagram, or contact me via this website. I’d love to hear from you! You can also share this post using the social media buttons below.

For more about the power of reading to children, get a copy of the brilliant little book Reading Magic by Mem Fox. I read this when my kids were tiny, and it was a great encouragement.

It’s good to buy from your local bookshop, if you have one, to support small businesses and help the environment. When I can’t get to mine, I check out Brotherhood Books or eBay for second-hand books. If you have a favourite online bookshop, let us know in the comments.

This post contains no affiliate links, only links to things I like 😉

“Point your kids in the right direction – when they’re old they won’t be lost.” Proverbs 22:6, The Message


  1. Love this. We have 1000s of books. Boxed and book shelves. Or under beds. I read alot and to the kids at night too. Can never get enough.

  2. Brava! This is a splendid look into the joys and wonders of reading to children, Jennie. Some of my most treasured memories are of reading to my daughter (also named “Jenni”!), starting at 6 months old. Before she even knew any of the English language, she would lie or sit there, enraptured by the sound of the words and my voice. It planted within her a deep love of books and story, finally resuting in her pursuit and capture of an MS and PhD in library science, and she is now tenured faculty in the library system of the Univ. of Nevada at Las Vegas.

    1. Thanks Bill! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I think Mem Fox’s Reading Magic is a wonderful little book about the value of reading to kids. It encouraged me (I probably didn’t need it!). That’s wonderful about your daughter! Our kids have also grown up into literature fans, and they play with words and write just for fun, which I love.

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