From Thomas the Tank to Uncle Tom’s Cabin

One of our eight-year-old grandsons is an avid reader. His parents’ challenge is to provide him with a steady supply of high-quality and morally uplifting books. A few days ago, I baffled his father when I asked him what book he or our daughter was reading aloud to this young bibliophile. His reaction went from baffled to shocked when I told him that one of my fondest homeschooling memories was reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities with our then sixteen-year-old son. Sometimes I read, sometimes he did, but we enjoyed it aloud together.

Our son, too, was an accomplished and passionate reader. In fact, he got a perfect score on his English SAT. We didn’t read aloud because he needed my help. Sharing literature was a gateway to cementing a warm relationship, discussing ideas, and ensuring mutual reference points. As a family, we often read books aloud at our Shabbat table, frustrating guests who were not always invited on each successive week. My husband and I regularly read the same books.

I have been sharing with you our eldest daughter’s Mother’s Guidance posts (here’s a lovely new one that isn’t just for moms!). Having six siblings means that you are lovingly guaranteed critical feedback and one sister told her that she sounded out-of-touch when she employed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie to make a point in a recent webinar.

“None of my friends would know what you are talking about,” she said.

Only a day later, the above-mentioned son posted on our family What’s App chat a quote he loved from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, Pink and White Tyranny, expressing a view that he found sadly lacking in today’s world. While not as famous as her Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it is a fantastic book that most of our children enjoyed as teens. One of our younger girls and I immediately reacted with our own favorite quote from that book. How valuable for our family to be able to connect through shared literature.

What is true for a family is true for society. Several colleges ask their incoming freshman to read a chosen book precisely so that they enter the school year with a common experience. But as core curricula get discarded, and as traditional classics get trashed, citizens have fewer and fewer mutual touchstones. Due to Biblical illiteracy, people today have no idea where hundreds of phrases in some of the most famous speeches of America’s presidents and statesmen originated, or the assumed larger picture the orator intended to evoke.

One can certainly live in harmony with neighbors with whom you don’t share a language. One can manage to get around with limited knowledge of the local vernacular. But to truly have a meeting of minds and to establish lasting bonds, little is as important as being able to communicate in a deep and meaningful way. Reading books together is an invaluable portal to that type of relationship.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Susan’s Musings post.
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