Reading and writing aren’t just about paper and words. At their best, they include an author’s “voice,” expressing their humanity through text. Voice is an expression of an author’s heart that can be missed if we focus too hard on what the text says and never get to what the text can personally mean.
How do children learn to feel an author’s emotion from lines of printed letters and spaces on paper, or from and artist’s illustrations and photographs, complementing the text presented on a page? How do capable readers use their sense of an author’s voice to help their audience (which often consists of young readers) fully connect with the messages that writers work so hard to share, crafting them to travel across physical, cultural and historic distances to arrive at bedsides for storytime?
What we call voice is the potential magic in literacies of all kinds. Two dimensional pages of books and poems and scripts and images and illustrations, all have talented creators whose personalities and intentions can be sensed by the young and the old, but only if they have learned to seek out those magic connections with the creators of these works of art. Through their artistry, authors reach out emotionally to readers of all ages.
Reading a book to a child can be the beginning of their education in listening for and appreciating an author’s emotion; our voices convey the strength and flavor of the author’s feelings or mood behind the printed words. Emotion is absent if readers merely say the words in a book. Those reading out loud have to take on the author’s personality, the feelings they’re trying to convey along with the facts and fancies on the book’s surface.
Adults who give themselves over to music, who sway and dance and sing along with their favorite performers’ renditions, offer children a clear vision of the personal, rich connection that can be inferred from what might otherwise be merely flat sharing of sounds. We can do that with books as well.
So when we teach children to read (dance and sing, illustrate or craft), we must present to them possibilities far beyond what can be lifelessly literal, uninterpreted sounds of a string of words. We have to show them the impact of the dramatic hilarity, sadness, or mind expanding discoveries that the creators have worked so hard to express through their chosen media.
Reading books at bedtime provides children with fabulous material for their dreams. It can clearly show them the world of possibilities that is freely available to all.
If we don’t observe that our children are still mentally caught up in the book we closed just 10 heartbeats ago, that they are continuing to savor the book’s deeper knowledge and beauty, then we may have missed an opportunity to help them develop a full, life-long understanding of the personal enrichment potentials of literacy.