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May 9, 2010

Cokie Roberts: My Mother, The Reading Teacher

Posted by Anonymous

Pity the poor woman who tried to deny me a library card because I was only 4-years- old. “But she can read,” my mother insisted, making it clear that she would stand there until that magic license to borrow books was mine. Saving face, the librarian made up a new rule: If I could write my name, I could have a card. Mamma had won, as she always did, and I could now officially enter the sacred world of readers.

cokie.JPGMy sister, 4-and-half-years older, thought my inability to read as a tiny toddler proved my imbecility. Our mother tried to stop her taunts by pointing out my age, (“she’s not stupid, she’s just 3”) but my sister refused to be convinced. So Mamma took pity on me and taught me to read as soon as I could. It was something I was dying to do just to silence my sister, but soon I learned that she was right, it was crazy to go through life any longer than necessary without that miraculous key allowing me to open the world’s doors. And of course the special time with Mamma was just that --- special.

By the time my own children came along, there was an ample body of research showing that time spent cuddling with an adult while listening to a book enhanced a child’s reading skills. What a deal! I could nurse a baby with one arm and hold a book in the other and actually have some time for myself! I would just read the book out loud, so the baby would hear my voice and suckle away happily. We also read together all of the books for little people and though I got fairly tired of patting that bunny, I always found reading one of the more enjoyable aspects of bringing up baby. I have no idea whether that made any difference, but those babies turned out to be early and voracious readers.

Even after they started reading on their own, we would still gather on a bed at night for me to read a “chapter book” just as my mother had done with me and my sister and brother. And just as my mother had done, I would invariably fall asleep. But, unlike my mother, I would talk in my sleep and the kids couldn’t wait to hear what my unconscious had to say. The unpredictable apparently added to the joy of the nightly reading ritual. 

With the arrival of the in-every-way-perfect grandchildren the cycle started again, sitting and snuggling as we often read a favorite story over and over again. And the literate members of that generation still enjoy some quiet time with a grownup-usually their mothers --- reading aloud. Books and family go together the way meals and family do. In this ever-changing world it’s comforting that some things can be counted on to stay the same. But one thing has changed --- all of the kids got library cards with no questions asked. And they didn’t even have to write their names.

Cokie Roberts is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and political commentator for ABC News and the author and editor of several books including WE ARE OUR MOTHER’S DAUGHTERS and LADIES OF LIBERTY: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation.