He pushes the book back into my hands.
“Again, Ms. Sylvan, AGAIN!”
We’ve read this one four times already today.
“We’ve read this one so many times! Would you like to pick a different one this time?”
“NO! THIS ONE! AGAIN!”
Again. This one. Nothing else will do.
If you work with young children, you’ve likely encountered this scenario before. The scenario where your students want the same book over and over again, despite the fact that you have a full library just waiting to be read. Despite the fact that the themes of the book don’t relate to anything else you’re doing today. We’ve spent weeks in the dead of winter reading Pumpkin Circle on repeat, rehashing the life cycle of everyone’s favorite autumn crop long after the last leaf has fallen from the trees. We’ve snuggled under green, leafy trees in June to read Llama, Llama, Holiday Drama. We read these favorites until the pages fall from the binding and need to be repaired in our “book hospital.”
My husband recently commented on our children’s love for the work of Mercer Mayer. There’s a Nightmare in my Closet, There’s an Alligator Under My Bed, and There’s Something in the Attic are our daughter’s current favorites, and they were her brother’s favorites for years. Both children have memorized at least one story from this canon, but to their dad they seem like simple tales, all very much alike.
However, these stories are so empowering that they deserve the repetition. Each time we read, we are reminded we can be brave, that we can overcome our fears. There is something new to notice in the illustrations (which are delightful in each story), a new detail indicating that the featured monsters aren’t as scary as they seemed. Each read brings another opportunity to feel a little scared alongside the protagonist, and then emerge triumphant at the end.
In her wonderful book Discovering the Culture of Childhood, Emily Plank reminds us that “predictability is empowering,” likening a child’s repeated requests for the same story to an adult’s need to drive down the same streets many times to feel comfortable in a new town. “This is the culture of childhood,” Plank says, “and we have to remember that children look at repetitious experiences through a different lens… Unlike their adult care providers, children are not bored after the tenth reading of Goodnight Moon. Through each successive reading, their minds are free to attend to something new. Perhaps they notice the sound of the turning pages during the first reading. Then, after the turning pages lose their allure, they notice a link between the pictures on each page and the sound of the words that accompany those pictures. In subsequent readings, they notice the colorful drawings that follow the black-and-white ones, or they wait with anticipation for the cow that jumps over the moon, or the sound of the lady whispering hush, or they notice the mouse that appears in every scene. As adults, we get bored with reading the same books over and over – and rightly so! We have ceased to be awed by the sound of a turning page, and with finely tuned phonemic awareness skills, we are no longer amazed at the magical synchronicity of words and pictures… But understanding the culture of childhood means appreciating the function of repetition in its cultural context.”
It is, of course, our job as teachers to ensure children have access to a variety of different books in their environments, and to take time to share wonderful new literature with them. But when we read a book that they love, that they want to hear over and over again, saying YES to their request is a valuable experience for us all – children and adult. We empower our children, telling them their ideas matter. We reinforce the notion that reading together is a rich, rewarding experience and that a good story is to be savored, not set aside. We help them build comfort with the elements of print. We help them grow as readers, and as people who will grow up loving books… again and again.
I’m Sylvan Taylor, a nurturer of small people and engineer of play at Sprouts Playschool, an in-home childcare and learning center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I spend my days playing, creating, and exploring with a small group of 2 – 4 year olds, many of whom have been with me since before they were walking. In a previous life, I was a classroom teacher in public schools, working largely with fourth and fifth graders. I hold a Master of Science degree in Elementary Education and National Board Certification for middle elementary grades. In addition to all this, I’m a mother of two awesome kids and a rescue dog, a wife to a PhD candidate, and a lover of good books, road trips, zombie films, and finding new uses for curbside junk. I also advocate for play and authentic learning here in Baton Rouge through Red Stick Pop Up Play (http://redstickpopup.weebly.com/).