Reading to Peeper

I’ve been reading aloud to Peeper on and off for the last trimester or so. I picked one of my favorite young adult books, Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea, which tells of two young Irish protagonists who embark on an adventure to prevent the Great Queen from destroying everything good in the world.

Although Peeper probably isn’t picking up on the plot (even with my laughable attempts at an Irish accent), our baby can hear me—and may even learn the rhythms of this particular book. A now-famous study by the University of South Carolina’s Anthony DeCasper found that when mothers read Dr. Seuss books to their babies in utero, their children later preferred the sounds of Seussian silliness to other kids’ books.

The fact that Peeper will learn to recognize my voice is reason enough for me to read out loud—even if I probably sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher, according to a Penn State psychologist. But the roots of my reading extend further than science.

I’ve been looking forward to reading to my kids ever since I decided I wanted to have a family. My parents read to me growing up, but the strongest memories I have are of Beth, my older sister, reading to me and my younger sister, Amy.

She started a tradition during the summer when I was about 12. Our mom had just been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, and my world had been turned inside-out. One day, Beth suggested reading to us while Amy and I cleaned our room (probably as a way to get us to undertake the detested chore). We picked up clothes and toys as Beth began reading The Hobbit.

I lost myself in Tolkien’s tale. Sure, it was a welcome distraction from taming the disaster area of our room. On a deeper level, though, I think the fantasy provided a much-needed escape from the horrors of chemotherapy, surgery and the uncertainty that my mom could die.

Beth continued reading to us even after the end of Bilbo’s quest, and after my mom was finally declared cancer-free. We tore through The Princess Bride, The Last Unicorn, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and my beloved Hounds of the Morrigan, among a whole shelf of others. Later, we read all seven Harry Potter books aloud—including one over Skype when Beth lived in Singapore and Amy and I lived on opposite coasts of the US.

So now, before I go to sleep, and especially if I’m stressed, I’ll crack open Pat O’Shea’s novel and read a few pages to Peeper. The practice won’t turn him or her into a baby Einstein, as some products claim to do. But perhaps it’ll provide some comfort and spark a later love of stories. I can’t imagine a better gift.

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