R is for Repeat Readings

In his meditations about being an adult re-reader, editor Verlyn Klinkenborg had this to say about child readers in his 2009 New York Times article:

The love of repetition seems to be ingrained in children. And it is certainly ingrained in the way children learn to read — witness the joyous and maddening love of hearing that same bedtime book read aloud all over again, word for word, inflection for inflection. Childhood is an oasis of repetitive acts, so much so that there is something shocking about the first time a young reader reads a book only once and moves on to the next. There’s a hunger in that act but also a kind of forsaking, a glimpse of adulthood to come.

What makes children want to read certain picture books over and over and over again?

According to Trevor Cairney, Ajunct Professor of Eduction at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, there are many reasons, including:

  • They desire a repeat of the pleasure that they’ve just had.

  • With repetition the task of reading becomes simpler and faster due to the familiarity of characters, plot and language.

  • The reader/listener can see new things when freed from the restraints of the new or the novel.

  • Re-reading offers the opportunity to reflect on and savour the language, the richness of the characters and the events that these characters have experienced.

  • Repetition creates ‘more space’ to engage at the personal level and become ‘lost’ in rich intertextual experiences as they relate the events of the book with those in their own lives, and other books, films and television that they have experienced.

So what makes certain picture books more re-readable than others?

From what Cairney describes, it’s a book that causes pleasure and continues unpacking itself when return visits reveal new tidbits that were missed during the first, second, or third readings.

Along with rich language, the illustrations reinforce the allure. As a young reader, I could spend hours poring over the meticulous and hilarious details that went into the illustrations for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett.

I recently had a similar response flipping through a copy of Shark vs Train by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld. Visual gags add another dimension making picture books satisfying and second-glance worthy.

What are the picture books that kept you coming back for more, either as a child or as an adult reader to children?



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