Last week we lost to cancer the marvelous, talented and warm-hearted children’s author, Anna Dewdney. By the time of her passing, she had authored over 20 books in the Llama Llama Red Pajama series that related so well to the actions and feelings of children ages 2-5 that parents knew before opening the book that they would find their little one–and probably themselves–in the storyline.
Anna was a passionate advocate for literacy, frequently writing articles extolling the emotional and academic importance of reading to and with children in order to develop a lifelong love of learning, reading and success. She knew, as teachers do, that even a little bit of time adults invest in reading with kids expands their horizons, builds literacy skills, and creates a positive bonding experience. That positive emotion surrounding the act of reading has a ripple effect on all else in a child’s world. (Likewise, not reading has a negative ripple effect!).
The effect is the same for singing with your kids! Through song, we bond emotionally, we play, we learn, we create, we expand our horizons. We even model the same inflection, phrasing, word choice, characterization and emotion that we convey when we read!
Anna Dewdney’s last wish was simple: No accolades, no donations, no big funeral–she just wanted everyone to take the time to READ TO A CHILD.
Stuart Stotts, a fellow Children’s Music Network member, equally talented and passionate about children, was moved by Anna’s last request. In a gentle, playful tone with a message as simple as Anna’s, his new song helps spread her wish: Llama Llama Red Pajama: Author Anna Dewdney’s Last Wish. I think this song could be used as an anthem for educators, grandparents, librarians–anyone who shares Dewdney’s belief of the power of reading with children! Or imagine your little ones singing this as a class or grade to parents at Open House?!* Get your tissues out, folks!
I, too, was struck by her “last wish”–what a powerful message and lasting gift to give ourselves as well as the children with/to whom we read! If taken literally, that is quite a legacy she leaves.
I took her “call to action” to heart and actually called my college age son. I
toggled between choosing a childhood favorite of his or something more
in keeping with his age and finally settled on a short inspirational book (though not at all certain that my choice of genre would be received as intended). I called him up, asked if he had five minutes (atypically, he said
“Yes”!), explained a bit about Anna’s wish (her books came out after he
had passed that stage so he was unfamiliar with her work), and began to
read the heartfelt words in the book. He listened without interruption
or any of the anticipated groans of “Geez, mom.” For that five minutes
For that five minutes, he was back in my lap, my arms enveloping him, the scent of his downy head wafting, as I read aloud with characters’ voices and great inflection. For that five minutes, he recalled those special times of his
youth (which lasted well into his teens!) when we shared surprise, horror, grief, joy, laughter, life lessons, and anticipation through the various stories we read together. There was a page in the book that urged him to “never forget to sing.” After I’d read the final page aloud there was a pause between us. Then he said, “One thing’s for sure: I never forget to sing. And I have you to thank for that, mom.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather! This is not a kid who
emotes much, nor who remembers to thank his parents (though he is
usually quite appreciative of others– less quick to do so with his family). I was beyond touched by the experience, and I believe he was, too.
I promised him I would not call to read to him regularly, but thanked him for
the time. He said, “It was good to hear you read to me again, mom. Feel
free to do it again sometime.”
Indeed, it was good to have shared that experience with him when the
time between us seems so fleeting these days. I have Anna’s wish to
thank for that inspiration.
As teachers and adults, we often get so caught up in the rigors of our work each day that we don’t pay attention to the impact of our choices. We all “know” that reading matters; we all get how important it is. What we don’t always examine is the long-range effects of the time we spend–or don’t spend–committed to doing those things for and with our kids that will have a permanent and emotional impact. The brain recalls that which is created with emotion.
You are never too old to love being read or sung to! And the joy of reading and singing with others creates that emotional tie to the experience, which means memories are being made; long-term learning is occurring at that very moment!
Create those moments for and with your students and your own kids. And revisit them….often!
*Please always remember to obtain permission from artists (or licensing rights from their Performance Rights Org., if needed) to perform their work publicly. It is neither complicated nor expensive and protects the rights of the artists to have their work fairly compensated.