Reading is for Babies

Father reading to baby The American Pediatrics Association says, “Immunize your children against illiteracy.”

NPR’s Audie Cornish interviewed Professor Susan Neuman about new evidence showing that the younger you read to your children, the better. Reading benefits babies, from earliest vocabulary development though later achievements.

Were you one of those lucky children who was read to?

I have preschool memories of my dad reading me Dr. Seuss and, I kid you not, The Wall Street Journal, and my mom reading me a chapter of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi before every nap.

Reading to my own children was even more enjoyable. My first toddler was barely forming two-word sentences when he announced from his car seat, “No, Pat! No, Pat!” He was pointing to a cactus, alluding to Dr. Seuss: “No, Pat, no! Don’t sit on that!” My younger son, by 3 or 4 spoke fluent King James, holding a book, pretending to read, making up stories and admonitions with archaic verb tenses and expressions, never confusing it with our colloquial English.

Reading is not only for babies. Don’t let children outgrow it! Jim Trelease (The Read-Aloud Handbook) suggests that teens wash dishes while parents read aloud. Talk about a Win-Win. The Phantom Tollbooth made a favorite dish-time hit.

Reading obviously benefits brain development, language acquisition, and academic achievements, but what I love most about reading/being read to, in classrooms and families, is the social development, between the literature and the readers, and the readers amongst themselves.

  • Empathy: reading another’s mind, walking in others’ shoes, experiencing other ages, places, cultures, and times.
  • Common vocabulary, allusions, characters, and private jokes, instantly conveying a concept or strengthening a relationship.
  • It’s hard to read and argue at the same time. (Certain people can pull it off—it helps to be attached to the literal, as in high-functioning autism—but imagine where such a person would be without literature and those ensuing discussions.)

What is your favorite reading benefit? Your favorite memory of communal reading?



Text © Gwyn Nichols 2014. All rights reserved.

Photo © Liza McCorkle. iStockPhoto.

My International Guests

Gwyns Flag Counter as of 10 24 2011
Gwyn's Flag Counter as of 10 24 2011
“If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”  — Anne Lamott

This is one of my favorite writer quotes, and my chief excuse for not promoting myself, but on a blog, it materializes at light speed. Recently, I noticed I was up to 73 flags on my blog’s flag counter–probably more by the time you read this. The other day my visitor report might have formed a quorum of the United Nations and resolved for world peace. You’re from Canada to Argentina, Finland to New Zealand, Ireland to Japan. Russia to Madagascar, Cambodia to Romania, Peru to Indonesia, Northern Mariana Islands to Brazil, Mexico to Luxembourg, Latvia to Bolivia, Greece to Vietnam,  Saudi Arabia to Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria to Taiwan, Switzerland to Pakistan, Israel to Bangladesh, Czech Republic to Nepal, Ukraine to Venezuela, Papua New Guinea to Lebanon, Serbia to South Africa, Singapore to Portugal. And 35 more.

With English being the chief second language in many nations, I assume most of these visitors understand me, while I’d be lost in their languages. It’s mind-boggling.

With so many readers whose days are my nights, or whose autumns are my springs (or both), I have to wonder! How did you land here? Were you looking for a topic I wrote about? Did you meet me through someone I’m connected with? Was it purely accidental, like a misdialed phone number? (I can’t imagine you’d actually heard of me, though this week was another milestone. Recommended Tags began suggesting “Gwyn Nichols.” Do I tag my posts with my own name? How odd!)

And when you got here, did you feel welcome? Lost?

I’m sparkling with curiosity. Please feel free to comment and let me (and my other guests in the room) know where you’re from, why you’re here, and whether I’m making a lick of sense. (Suddenly, I’m self-conscious about my idioms.) What would be helpful to you?


 Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All rights reserved.

Image: screenshot from Flag Counter. You can get one for your blog here. I don’t know how I blogged without this service, it makes life so much more fun!

What’s Your Style?

This one is for those of you who already write in complete, yet not inexhaustible sentences, and wonder whether you have any style.

Of course, you do–just as you have a personality style, a speaking style, a breathing rhythm, a driving style. You can’t help it. You are an original because you are the only one. Whether you want to tweak your writing style is up to you. (My favorite book on style is Trimble’s Writing with Style.)

David L. L. Houston enumerates some of the features that distinguish one author’s style from another, and I liked his style. What’s Your Style?


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

Most Beautiful Words

A reposting of a list of 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language has me wondering what my own favorites would be.

For example, bucolic doesn’t make my list. Its meaning, in a lovely rural setting, certainly qualifies, and that definition chimes beautifully in the ear, but bucolic’s cacophonous sound suggests it would mean sick cow.

Nor do I care for long latinate words when a more accessible word will do. I prefer cat lover to ailurophile.

I  concur on onomatopeia and panacea, but my favorite word has to be lullaby.

Remember when Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street sang the L song? Bert had “light bulb and lamp post,” while Ernie advocated the “lilting and lovely ones” like “laughter, lullaby, lollypop.” So Bert the boring came up with “linoleum!” The humor came in juxtaposing a melodic word with its pedestrian meaning.

For me, the most beautiful word captures the precise meaning you’re looking for, its phonetic symbolism matches its meaning, and its cadence fits the prosody of your passage. Good thing we can rummage around in this language with the largest vocabulary available; with a half million words to choose from, sometimes we can have it all.

What would you nominate as a most beautiful word?

Rhyme Time

Children’s book editors conventionally whine about rhyme. It’s so hard to write tight in rhythm and rhyme, they’d rather not brave it. Then they have children of their own, and discover how much fun great rhyming can be. And any elementary school teacher could tell you how important rhyme is for reading readiness.

Editor Allyn Johnston said, “My feelings about rhyming picture books really did change after our son was born. I used to be a complete pill about how much I disliked them, and then my husband and I spent endless hours reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Dr. Seuss books and The Seven Silly Eaters and Time for Bed and Hattie and the Fox (and other young Mem Fox books), and I saw how much fun it was to laugh and cuddle and repeat goofy stanzas with Eamon–and I became a convert. We still have rhymes we say to each other in silly moments from those early years. So now I feel that when rhyme is great, there’s nothing like it to engage very young children with books. (Mem’s adult book Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children will Change Their Lives Forever includes lots of great info on this topic.)” (More with Barb Odanaka’s interview.)

So there are times to rhyme. The summer between high school and college, I hadn’t received an acceptance from my university’s honor’s program so I could register for classes. To nag politely and humorously, I inquired about it in several stanzas of verse. And as soon as I mailed it, I about died. What a stupid freshman thing to do. Now they’d change their minds and reject me for sure.

The reply must have been sent by return mail. It was an apology, acceptance, and welcome, all in verse, saying that even if I hadn’t already deserved a place in the program, my verse would have won the appeal. Better yet, when I arrived on campus, I was interviewed by the author of that reply, the president of the honors students and a handsome, single, senior guy majoring in economics. If I hadn’t felt so young by comparison, I’d have had a crush.

I do side with the editors who cringe when the rhythm or rhyme is forced and overthrows all sense. It’s usually a hard-won skill to do it well, but anyone can play with it. So try rhyme sometime. There are plenty of rhyming dictionaries to aid and abet you, but I love Mathew Healy’s simple and elegant rhyme sublime tool at

WriteRhymes screenshot


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Bilingual Brain Advantage

During the decade politicians were banning bilingual education, I was in graduate school studying linguistics, including language acquisition–even bilingual language acquisition–and wishing we could all have bilingual (or trilingual) education. Children raised by parents with different native languages had the easiest time of it, especially those who conversed with each parent almost exclusively in their own languages. Next best would be learning any language while the language acquisition system was still open, as when children learn one language at school while speaking another at home.

And then there’s our system, where we not only discourage such home native language learning, we native English speakers postpone intense second language study until our brains have already pruned out the acquisition system that supports full fluency and native pronunciation. We’ve been robbed.

Fluently multilingual speakers have obvious career, travel, cultural, and social advantages. Many of you paid a social price as you developed these skills, along with the intellectual effort involved, but you end up with wider opportunities and, it stands to reason, amazing brains.

Now there are studies suggesting that you bilingual speakers might even delay the onset of Alzheimer disease. That’s how good a brain workout you’re getting, no matter which language you’re using. Psychologist Ellen Bialystok said in an NPR interview, “Even if you are in a context that is utterly monolingual, where you think there is absolutely no reason to think about Chinese or Spanish or French, it is part of the activated network that’s going on in your brain.”1

The study, published in Neurology, included 211 Alzheimer patients, approximately half bilingual, and it concluded “that the bilingual patients had been diagnosed 4.3 years later and had reported the onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than the monolingual patients. The groups were equivalent on measures of cognitive and occupational level, there was no apparent effect of immigration status, and the monolingual patients had received more formal education. There were no gender differences.” It confirmed findings of a previous study. 2

NPR’s Gretchen Cuda-Kroen reports that 20% of American homes speak another language at home, while around the world, there could be as many as two-thirds of children being raised bilingual.3

The economic advantage of a multilingual population hasn’t inspired our educational policy. Maybe it’s because we’re lacking that brain advantage in the first place.

  1. Ellen Bialystok, PhD, interview by Gretchen Cuda-Kroen. “Being Bilingual May Boost Your Brain Power” NPR. April 4, 2011
  2. Fergus I.M. Craik, PhD, Ellen Bialystok, PhD, and Morris Freedman, MD. “”Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease: Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve.”.” Neurology. November 9, 2010. (accessed 04 04, 2011).
  3. Gretchen Cuda-Kroen. “Being Bilingual May Boost Your Brain Power” NPR. April 4, 2011

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The Lady with the Pineapple Hair

As teenagers, we stifled giggles whenever we sat behind the lady with the pineapple hair. I theorized that she hoped its astounding height would be slimming. I also guessed that she did not own a hand mirror and had never seen her hair from the rear. This tallest of beehives was teased and sprayed with little back support, like a peacock’s display.

This was the late 70s, so the beehive had been out for nearly a decade. Such a fate seemed unfathomable when those years constituted half our lifespans. Now, of course, it’s obvious how someone could fall even farther behind the trends. (And let’s not discuss our own style of the era, the Farrah Fawcett mane.)

So what gives us away as writers of a certain age?

1) “Type two spaces after each final punctuation mark.” Gone. Now all manuscripts match the book rule: one space. It’s such a hard habit to break, I use Find-Replace to check my own work as well as my clients’.

2) “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, then tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em.” Who has time for that anymore? Get attention, get to the point, get out.

Editors! We’re makeover artists. Writer friends–the handheld mirror.

What have you changed in updating your writing style?
Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011