Just for Parents, GrandParents, and Doting Aunts and Uncles
THE JOY OF READING
(a gift to our children)
By Ted Tillotson
In the fifth grade, crotchety, old Mrs. Murphy gave our class a wonderful gift on the day before Christmas vacation. She read Oscar Wildes, "The Happy Prince" aloud; it was a turning point in my life. I hung on every word and felt the pain of the departed prince. I loved the tiny swallow who served the prince until his own death.
The prince was a statue, standing proud in the town square. He was covered with gold leaf and a number of rare gems. The little swallow, at the command of the prince, plucked out the jewels, stripped away all the statues gold leaf and gave the treasures to the poor. In the end, the little swallow died of the winters cold and the lead heart, of the happy prince, cracked. He joined the little swallow in Heaven; together they were honored by God in a special way.
That wonderful story fired my desire to read, more importantly, my drive to write!
If not for Mrs. Murphys gift, you would not be reading my words in CyberParent, I would not have written and published essays, stories and numerous poems. I would not have enjoyed a torrid romance with the written word.
"The Happy Prince" stayed with me for years, I vowed to write something like it, or as close as I could get to it. I have done so, in a series of childrens stories I have since published. Four of them are available, for your enjoyment, on the Internet (see the URL at the end of this article).
Back in the fifth grade, learning, growing children had less diversions to occupy their, after-school, hours. If memory serves, reading, and being read to, played an important role in a childs life. However, a measure of effort was required to get most kids to open a book today it can be a major task.
My parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles, enjoyed reading and therefore set an example. Unfortunately, over the past thirty years (more or less), distractions have increased and reading has declined. Of course you can factor in the reading of software documentation or the complex computer-game manuals. Most kids understand the latter better than their parents.
Schools & public libraries have developed reading-encouragement programs that are well worth the time and effort. I stumbled onto such a program while doing research for an article. The local branches of the San Diego Public Library have a Saturday morning session aimed at youngsters from sixth through ninth grade. The children gather in separate age groups in which they read & listen to stories being read to them. As the kids get involved, they become eager to read out loud to their group.
To go a step further, volunteer high school students join in and read to younger kids. The older children have fun dramatizing the stories and urge the little ones to do the same. The benefits of those reading programs are obvious and do more for the kids than teaching them how to read. Communication & social skills improve while enhancing a feeling of accomplishment and self esteem.
As an author and writer of several childrens stories Ive been rewarded to have had opportunities to read my material to wide-eyed kids. I could see girls & boys alike identifying with and becoming, for the moment, the characters in my tales.
I often wonder how many children, that I read to, took pen & paper and expressed themselves in the writing of their own stories. Chances are, the writing-bug has bitten a few of them.
While teaching my course, "Write to Publish," on America Online, I discovered scores of adults who had been inspired by reading & listening to childhood stories. Several of my students went on to publish their work. I was as moved by that as I was with the delight on the faces of children I read to.
One of the most rewarding experiences of my thirty five year radio career came from a written classic. The station wanted something special for Christmas eve programming. The project was given to me. There wasnt a doubt in my mind as to what I would present.
With full dramatization, music & sound effects, I produced Oscar Wildes, "The Happy Prince." I had to retake the closing line several times I choked up on every reading. The little swallow had died at the feet of the statue. He had stayed too long, in the cold, spreading the princes wealth. A loud crack was heard from inside the statue his heart had broken.
The closing line, of the story is:
God asked for the two most valuable things in his kingdom. An angel brought him the little swallow and the broken heart of the happy prince. (some editions may vary)
I had a tough time writing the line here.
The editors of CyberParent have reprinted one of my stories. Click here.
Ted Tillotson is a freelance writer who has published stories, articles, & poems in numerous national & regional magazines & anthologies. He lives with his wife, Barbara, in Athens, Texas.
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