Other families have Game Night or Movie Night. We have Book Night.

It started out as a means of self defense. We had two kids under the age of 5. My husband and I both had full time, demanding jobs, and he was pursuing a college degree at night.

Reading for Survival

I felt stretched, especially at bedtime when I tried to read a book or two to each child before they went to bed. But I was always racing from one bedroom to the other; the youngest wasn’t asleep yet as she heard me read to the older; he complained when I stopped reading to go soothe his sister. Bedtime was chaotic and I was exhausted.

So one Monday, as Dad studied, I let both children select 3 books and we all piled onto our big bed. My 5-year-old son tolerated the bunny and alphabet books his 2-year-old sister loved and she stayed quiet as I read about monster trucks and airplanes. By the time all 6 books were read, everybody was ready to go to bed and no one felt shortchanged.

Book Night quickly became a Monday tradition, then a Tuesday tradition, then virtually every night became a Book Night, except Thursday, the night I took the kids to an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet restaurant while my husband had a 4-hour class. The week developed a rhythm, punctuated by the excitement of choosing Book Night books at the library on Saturday. I still had a lot to handle, but Book Night enforced a structure that removed a lot of stress.

Related post: The Power of Daddy

When Tradition Grows Up

We read together like this for several years, until my son said I read too slowly and would rather read on his own. Mind you, this is the kid who started reading Dale Brown in first grade! My daughter and I gradually moved on to reading classics together and the last book I read aloud to her was The Secret Garden when she was in third grade. Then she could read faster to herself than I could read aloud, too.

But Book Night stayed with us. As we gathered in the evenings for dinner, everyone had to be reluctantly parted from their books for a time. At some point someone asked if they could read at the table and Book Night morphed into a dinner rather than bedtime event.

“Is it a Book Night?” someone would ask and invariably we’d each come to dinner with a book. The conversation always started by taking turns asking each other what was the best part of their day (sort of like the Waltons telling each other good night.) Once that ritual had been completed and discussed, we’d each read a bit. But far from being silent meals, we’d end up discussing the books we were each reading. Parents and kids alike learned of new books, (husband and son still regularly swap sci-fi) the kids learned to describe what they read and support their opinions, and we swapped our enthusiasm for all-family favorites like the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.

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Not Just Survival, But Success

My kids are mostly grown now and thanks to Book Night are voracious readers and literary critics. Their love of reading has bolstered their performance at school, helped their SAT scores, and allowed them to become critical thinkers with interesting things to say.

So if you have kids, read to them. For all of you.

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