I have a great memory of Christmas Eve night when my dad read aloud The Polar Express to my sister and I. The magic of Christmas jumped off the pages of that book and the words gave us the warmth and anticipation that only comes with Christmas. When my dad read the last words, “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe” I would think to myself, “I still believe, I still believe!” And he would tell us to hurry and fall asleep so Santa would come, and Jessie and I would usually lay there talking about what we thought we were getting for Christmas, too excited to actually go to sleep.
This book has grown even more special over time. The memories of those Christmas Eves anticipating Santa Claus are strong in my mind. I learned over time that Chris Van Allsburg, the author of The Polar Express grew up in Grand Rapids and modeled the illustrations after his childhood neighborhood. As a writer of children’s books myself now, the book with all of its poignant words and magical illustrations make me want to create books that captivate children as much as that book captivated me all those years ago. As a teacher, I want to teach my class the importance of using figurative language (“train wrapped in an apron of steam, candies with nougat centers as white as snow”). But more than anything, what I want to take away from the joy of reading The Polar Express is the importance of parents reading aloud to their children.
One of the most important and special things parents can do for their children is read to them. Tell them stories. Open their eyes to new worlds and new people that can only come from the pages of the book. Show them the magic of an old fashioned train headed to The North Pole. Make memories with them from books. I will share with you a few statistics about the importance of reading aloud to children for brain development later, but for now my hope is you first and foremost know that reading aloud to children matter because you are spending time with them. My dad come upstairs with The Polar Express on Christmas Eve was nothing fancy or elaborate. It was simple but meaningful.
Since those days, there has been a very popular movie made called “The Polar Express.” It is beautifully done and I highly recommend it. But my hope is that you instead grab the glossy book, make your child some hot chocolate and read this story to them. I promise that just like me, they will remember it years from now.
As promised, included below are a few statistics about the importance of reading aloud to children and spending time with your kids when they are little:
- The most important time for brain growth occurs between the age of birth and age five. -The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study
- Young children who are exposed to literacy early on become good readers later. -National Research Council
- A child’s brain is 80% developed by the time they are 3 years old. -ZerotoThree
- “The only behavior measure that correlates significantly with reading scores is the number of books in the home.” -The Literacy Crisis