I always assumed that my kids would devour books. That sentence serves as cover for my more self-absorbed assumption: that my kids would be just like me.
It seems I always loved to read. I made my way many times through our set of Companion Library books, which paired two novels between a set of book covers, with one appearing upside down until you flipped the book. “Little Women” was paired with “Little Men,” “Robinson Crusoe” with “Swiss Family Robinson.”
There were the “Little House” books, made even more meaningful because I was growing up in South Dakota, just like Laura Ingalls.
The bookmobile that parked each month outside the elementary school was a bonanza. The only trick was remembering to bring the books to school on the right day. Sometimes, that became a teachable moment; sometimes Mom relented and drove my cache to school.
Reading before going to sleep became a habit. I’ll never forget becoming so engrossed in “Gone With the Wind” that when I finally yawned wide enough to realize I was sleepy, it was 3 a.m.
So books naturally were part of the routine when I became a mother. The kids loved being read to; we adored Bill Peet’s charmingly inventive tales like “The Caboose Who Got Loose” or “The Wump World.” Dr. Seuss? Of course.
We traveled the prairies with Laura many times over — almost too much for my daughter, who rolled her eyes at the idea of proclaiming Christmas candy “too pretty to eat.” She preferred the off-kilter episodes in Louis Sachar’s “Sideways Stories From Wayside School.”
Car trips always meant new books. The acres of Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio were where we first read Jon Scieszka’s “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales” and Judi Barrett’s “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and William Steig’s “Brave Irene.”
My husband was the “Wizard of Oz” guy, he and our daughter digging into L. Frank Baum’s other books beyond the movie. He also was the library guy, introducing the kids to the wonders of walking out of a building with an armload of books. All you had to do was return them when you were done. Imagine.
Eventually, of course, the kids learned to read themselves, albeit drawn to what I considered a lesser literary caliber. Two words: “Captain Underpants.”
Then, for whatever reason, books slowly disappeared from their bedsides. Maybe they were too tired, or had too much homework. Or maybe — maybe — they just didn’t like to read.
Young adult novels would sit with bookmarks forever stuck in page 24. They seemed fine with this. I was bereft.
As they grew into their 20s, I’d occasionally see a book in a purse or backpack, but they’d have little to say about a plot or character. It was something they’d picked up for a flight, or a friend had urged it on them.
You can’t nag someone to read for pleasure. I couldn’t enthuse, “I think you’ll love this!” without wondering if I’d promised the same thing about piano lessons. So I let it go. If a love of books would come, better that it happen without my noticing.
Granted, my heart leapt when our son developed an appreciation for Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring Aubrey-Maturin series. But he can go a year before picking up the next book, while I’ll crack Book 9 within minutes of finishing Book 8.
So you could have knocked me over with a feather when our daughter, in the midst of a texting session that meandered among topics, mentioned this: that she and her brother have been trading book recommendations this summer.
And just like that, I exhaled.
Kim Ode is a feature writer for the Star Tribune. On Twitter: @Odewrites