Science has proven that less sunlight drives our bodies to shut down earlier, and as famed author Clement Moore penned so eloquently, lead us to settle in for a long winter’s nap. This odd phenomenon has a silver lining though and ultimately serves a healthy purpose for reenergizing and renewal. For, just as nature requires a period of dormancy in order to preserve energy and insulate from the elements in preparation for a new life cycle, so it is with our bodies.
In winter, we actually produce hormones that make us sleepy, giving us the time necessary to restore ourselves—body, mind and spirit. This period of stillness can provide us with varied opportunities for reflection, solitude, and for taking stock of our lives.
One of my favorite ways to embrace the winter break is by escaping within the pages of a good book. Recently, my niece Caroline reminded me that great joy can also be found in becoming reacquainted with an old favorite. She demonstrated this last summer when the entire family was vacationing in Asheville, North Carolina, and she whipped out a dog-eared copy of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Although a recent graduate of Connecticut College, Caroline has gotten into the habit of re-reading this childhood favorite each year to mark the start of summer. Will it surprise you to learn that in no time flat her favorite aunt became hooked on this mid-century fantasy as well? The moment I spied Caroline putting the book down, I would casually pick it up. Soon a few members of the family were sharing this book as a communal text as we read the passages aloud that most spoke to us. Our conversations revolved around Milo, our young hero, and the valuable lessons he learns. As a kid who initially sees the world as dull and boring, he eventually discovers that life is more astonishing than he ever believed possible.
There are many benefits of reading a book over and over again. As educators, we know that re-reading the same book helps young students become familiar with words and patterns and also helps them become acquainted with structure and storytelling. This repetition, although sometimes frustrating for parents, is a natural part of learning. As students grow, re-reading also serves to strengthen vocabulary and deepen comprehension. Nor can we diminish the joy of discovery and the boost in confidence that occurs as a child builds fluency and moves beyond decoding to focus on the deeper meaning of the text.
We, as adults, are well aware of the comfort associated with picking up a book that we’ve read before. Many of us fondly recall how a favorite novel has the capacity to evoke a deep sense of nostalgia or transport us to long forgotten places whose memories are etched in our hearts. Because reading is both personal and experiential different parts of the text speak to us at different stages in our lives. As we savor the language, a story can take on new meaning as we discover new insights about the characters and ourselves as we deepen our understanding of the author’s message.
During winter break this year, consider a shared reading experience. Bonding in this way is certain to generate lively conversations. Below I’ve included several of my favorite reads and some of the wonderful pearls of wisdom that have emerged during a re-read.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: “Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.” –Mrs. Whatsit
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: “So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling: “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Nora Zeale Hurston: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: “May the hair on your toes never fall out!”
Great books inspire us. They captivate us. They teach us and they touch our hearts. Great books can transport us through time and carry us off to far-away lands. They open our minds. They enchant us. And, ultimately, they have the capacity to help us discover that life is indeed more astonishing than we ever believed possible.
Kathie Foster is superintendent of Robbinsville Schools.