As our oldest has reached the ripe old age of six-and-a-half, she's come into a new appreciation of stories and poems I actually find it interesting to read. Thus, for instance, she sat raptly listing to Paul Revere's Ride the other night, while the two younger girls preferred to stage their own revolution against authority by jumping off beds and running around the room.
Similarly, she is now interesting in listening intently to everything from books about dinosaurs and the Egyptian mummies to the original Grimm's Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Anderson, Greek myths, and selections from the Red Fairy Book, Blue Fairy Book, etc. The just-turned-five-year-old will listen for a while to such stories if they involve dancers or princesses, but her retention is not necessarily very good, and her attention wanders if the story goes into much narrative detail. (Or lacks pictures.)
And miss two-and-a-half prefers very short stories with lots of pictures, at which point she seizes the book herself and points out all relevant parts of the illustration, shouting over your attempts to read if necessary.
This is all, so far as I can remember, part of normal development towards a real interest in reading. However, as I was congratulating myself the other night that my oldest was finally starting to be able to enjoy some "interesting stuff", it struck me that a parent has a duty of sorts to develop an actual interest in children's literature. Some people are blessed to have this on their own. Reading Tolkien and Lewis's writing about "fairy stories", you can tell that both of these men had a real and deep appreciation for stories written at a child's level.
I do not, to any great extent.
And yet it seems to me, now I think about it, that reading to one's children will not go as well if one sees it as a duty until they become old enough to enjoy "interesting stuff". Rather, one must be able to develop some degree of appreciation for children's literature for what it is.
So over the last few weeks I've started paging through our older treasuries of children's literature trying to find stories that I like, so that I can bring some genuine enthusiasm to reading to the younger girls. I'm not sure how far I'll be able to get in this. Most of what I truly like in the realm of literature and essays is not written at a level which is fully accessible (or indeed appropriate) for children. But I think I need to come up with some degree of appreciation for the sort of stories and poems which are accessible to 2-6 year olds if I'm to be able to start them on really enjoying reading early enough for the habit to stick.