Yesterday, I came across a video on Youtube about the importance of reading, even ten minutes a day, to children. Unfortunately, it felt to me that the message of the video was fairly negative: read to your children or this is what will happen! We had a very different experience of reading aloud in our family when our son was growing up and this was, at least in part, thanks to Gladys Hunt.
Gladys Hunt passed away five years ago this Saturday, July 4, 2010. I first came to know her as part of the husband and wife team of Keith and Gladys Hunt who helped develop from its very beginnings, a conference center known as Cedar Campus, located at the eastern end of the Les Cheneaux islands chain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, owned by the organization for which I work.
Many of us knew her as “Rusty” for her auburn hair. She was not only involved in developing this facility and actively engaged in Christian ministry among university students, she was a writer who authored over twenty books during her lifetime. She was also a person who shared her love of reading first with her family, and then with students and staff who visited Cedar Campus as well as many others who came to know her through her books. Her husband became a co-conspirator in this enterprise, often reading aloud to groups of us by a fireplace the Winnie the Pooh stories of A.A. Milne. I had never discovered these stories as a child and delighted as much as the children in the adventures of Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and Christopher Robin. We learned that these readings began in their own family circle, and eventually came to include the rest of us!
We learned more of the story of the Hunt family’s experiences of reading aloud through her book Honey for a Child’s Heart. The book describes their experiences as a family reading through The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, The Little House books, and many others. We learned of the joy of the memories of good books shared with one another. We learned of the most important criteria for a children’s book: that it not only be suitable for the age of the child but also one that adults would enjoy reading. And the book offered us a wonderful list of book recommendations by age group that we used to find books to read aloud in our own home. All of this contributed to the cherished memories of reading aloud at night before bed, snuggled on the sofa in our guest room.
On visits to Cedar Campus when our son was young “Rusty” would talk with our son about what he was reading, really just two friends talking about the books they loved. When he was older, Gladys was working with good friend Barbara Hampton on revising a book that was subsequently titled Honey for a Teen’s Heart. They asked him to contribute his own ideas of good books and his name even appears in the acknowledgements!
On this fifth anniversary of Gladys Hunt’s passing, it seemed a good time to express my profound appreciation for the love of reading aloud as a family that she imparted to so many of us. We still read aloud at times to each other on trips. Just last night my son dropped by and part of the conversation was on books we were reading. Reading aloud when our son was growing up didn’t simply save him from illiteracy. It provided a rich wealth of shared memories of family closeness and good books enjoyed together.
Thank you, Gladys Hunt!