She was maybe three years old, her face still round and soft, and I was reading a book to her. It was probably the Berenstain Bears, because her mother bought so many of those.
We lay on her bed, my daughter Caroline snuggling on my chest, and I read her the story about too much birthday. I turned the pages and she looked at the pictures and heard me say the words. I could feel her breath on my neck and see her eyes blink as she listened, utterly absorbed in the story.
We went like that for years, sometimes sitting on the living-room couch, other days elsewhere. We sailed through the whole Berenstain series, along with such classics as The Secret Garden and The Little Princess.
“Shall I read you something?” I would ask, usually at night, right after dinner.
“Yes, read to me,” she usually said.
The readings excited her curiosity. Caroline might ask me about an unfamiliar word or about why something happened in a story.
She particularly loved the Berenstain Bears; the books always seemed to be about too much this or too much that. Caroline liked how the family had a big brother and a little sister, the same as ours, and often had some kind of adventure together. I read to her regularly for years, and it all went into her eyes and ears, all those words and pictures, unleashing her imagination.
Later, we graduated to the great E.B. White, to Stuart Little and Trumpet of the Swan and, of course, Charlotte’s Web. Caroline was older then, maybe seven or eight, and bigger, too, taking up more space in my arms.
But it made no difference. I read to her all the same, read to her about the pig and the spider, chapter after chapter, night after night, until we finished three weeks later.
Mostly I remember how reading brought us closer. Together we entered the worlds that these stories opened up; together we followed the characters living out the plots. By then she could read on her own. But she seemed no less glad for me to read to her, and I was pleased to do it.
No doubt it served us both well. It gave me the chance to give her something of value: a love of reading. And she took it all in, all the words and pictures, enjoying her visits to made-up worlds beyond her own. The books came alive to her, and today she reads still, widely and with hunger, novels, biographies, histories. And she tells stories so well, too, with a real sense of the beginning, middle and end, the logic of drama, the joys of narrative.
I can really see the connection between then and now, how my reading to her made a difference in her life. It’s hard to say which of us came away from those readings, those special moments, the most rewarded. Nor does it particularly matter. We can call it a draw.
Bob Brody, a New York City executive, essayist and father of two, is the author of the memoir Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.