Sunflower Summer Reading: Long summer days are the perfect time to get lost inside a book! Join Sunflower throughout the summer, as we explore reading aloud in all its forms and benefits.

This post is Part 4 in the series. Read Part 1 here: Read me a story? As you wish. Read Part 2 here: Audiobooks: Learning to listen Read Part 3 here: Reading Aloud with Interaction: You can’t mess it up Read Part 4 here: Becoming the story: Reading aloud with Shakespeare


I read to my daughter Kate because I love books, and I love reading. One of the best things about having a kid is that you get to do again all the things you yourself loved when you were a kid, without feeling weird about it. So I read her every remembered favorite childhood book I could get my hands on. Of course we started with picture books, but chapter books came quickly. I recall being quite young and reading books where I did not know many of the words, and figuring them out from the context. Stretches the mind.

We read all the Oz books; we read old-fashioned books like Nancy Drew and Little Lord Fauntleroy and new books like The Blue Sword. We read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy before the movies were due to come out. At eleven-ish she may have been a bit young for that; as I recall it took us a long time to get through the part where Sam and Frodo are traveling through Mordor. We’d read a page, and she’d fall asleep. Next night, another page or so … in my memory it took us a month, but that has to be an exaggeration. To this day, I know exactly what she means when she says, “It was like slogging through Mordor, Mom…” We read mostly fiction, and lots of series books. We’d be so excited when the next book in some series we loved was about to come out!

Anyway, the time of course came when Kate could read the books on her own. And she did, often re-reading books we’d originally read together. As someone who read Heidi 23 times as a kid, I have no problem at all with re-reading books. I don’t know what one gets from it, but it’s clearly something good, since so many of us do it. And I was not yet done with my own re-reading of my favorite childhood books! Not to mention all the great stuff that had been written since. J. K. Rowling was still in the midst of writing Harry Potter; we could not yet be done reading aloud!

When your child is older, the books you read are more of a shared activity, chosen together, and read at mutually convenient times. The last book I remember reading aloud with Kate was the seventh Harry Potter, when she was 17 or 18.

Kate reading

A grown up Kate reading

As was our tradition, we went to the midnight book release party and bought our copy, and then proceeded to devour it, together, during the next few days of a very conveniently scheduled beach holiday. As I recall, we took turns reading, and I enjoyed being both reader and audience.

When I was a child my mother read to us often. To this day, each December she reads aloud The Mole Family’s Christmas to the entire extended family, and it is one of the highlights of the holiday season, though my stepfather’s rendition of The Cremation of Sam McGee always gave her a run for her money. As for my Dad, and what I remember about him and reading when I was a kid was that each December he would read Dicken’s A Christmas Carol out loud, in the living room. It took a few evenings during the holiday break to finish the entire book. I am the oldest, and was a teenager in these memories. Clearly, I loved it.

I was struck by the Freakonomics observation that reading to your kids did not correlate to school performance, but having books in the home did. Books in the home means that reading is important to you. In addition to seeing them lining the walls, your kids probably see you reading yourselves. And when you read aloud to your older child, you are sharing an activity you enjoy. You’re not just sharing the activity, you’re sharing the enjoyment. This could not have been illustrated more perfectly when, as a student at RISD, Kate decided that she had to right the terrible wrong that was her good friend Karen’s experience of Harry Potter. She had only seen the movies! Quelle Horreur! Deciding this could not be allowed to stand, over the course of about a year Kate read all seven books aloud to Karen and whoever else happened to be around and interested. Apparently, it was quite a popular activity in their set of friends.

Kate is a young woman now, launched in the world, living a couple thousand miles away. But we still share book recommendations, and discuss whatever we’ve read or listened to lately. The connections you make, as you read aloud, last a lifetime, for both of you.

Post by Kristin Harkness

Photo by Sam Ligeti 
Sunflower Summer Reading Graphic design by Meade Peers McCoy

Kristin is a long-time software engineer and newly minted performance artist. She and her partner Dawn, having raised their daughter and finding they still needed play time, recently opened a Segway tour company in New London, CT. In the off-season, Kristin writes Swift for iOS for Drafted, a start-up in Boston.