Reading to my own children is what got me started as an author and illustrator. I was trained as a graphic designer. When my first child was born, my wife and partner Robin Page and I were running a small design studio in NYC. We began reading to Page when she was no more than two or three months old. I think she liked the ritual, the soothing rhythm of our voices, the color and pattern of the pages. At first she was pretty passive, but she soon began to talk to the books, touch the pictures and -- naturally -- try to eat the pages whenever she got a chance.
My first son, Alec, was born when Page was two. We added him to our nightly reading sessions, which continued until my daughter was around 14 -- long after she was reading adult fiction on her own. We started with picture books, then worked our way through Roald Dahl, Garth Nix, Phillip Pullman, Lois Lowry, and J.R.R. Tolkein, with tastes of Dickens, Twain, Steinbeck, and Kerouac mixed in. Reading time was something we all looked forward to. It was the one time of day without distractions.
Now I read almost every night to Jamie, our 10-year-old son. We are just finishing The Graveyard Book. Before that we read Oliver Twist and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Having a third child gives me the chance to re-read some of the books I enjoyed best the first time around.
I suppose I should add something here about instilling a love of reading, about the knowledge of the world that the kids acquired, and so on. And that is important -- all our children read widely and enthusiastically on their own. But, no question, the best thing about reading to a child is the time spent together, curled up on a chair or under a quilt, sharing the experience of other lives and other worlds.
2. What were some of the favorite books that you shared with your children when they were young? Did your family have any traditions or habits surrounding reading and books? How do you think these early experiences have impacted your children today?
I guess I answered the second parts of this question already. In addition to the authors I mentioned above, the kids, when they were younger, loved Where the Wild Things Are; the Dragons of Blueland and the other dragon books (Ruth Gannett); Island of the Blue Dolphins; Pippi Longstocking (not sure my son was as crazy about this one); The Hatchet and its sequels (Paulsen) The Indian in the Cupboard books (Lynne Reid Banks); and, of course, Charlotte's Web, Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little. We also read lots of non-fiction books about rain forests, dinosaurs, volcanoes, explorers, prehistoric people, etc.
3. Why do you think children are drawn to non-fiction topics like the themes of many of your books?
It's easy to see why children are drawn to fiction, and I think the lists above are heavily weighted on the fiction side because its easier to lose ourselves in the excitement, sadness, or triumph of a good story, one in which the plot pulls us along. Non-fiction is a little more work. But it is real, and I think that's what kids respond to. In my experience, children have a real drive to understand the world and how it works (sadly, it seems that most of us lose this impulse by the time we are adults).
Animals in Flight