In The Enchanted Hour, Meghan Cox Gurdon makes the intellectual, social, and emotional case for reading aloud, at any age, to any age.
The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon. Harper, 2019, 261 pages
Does anyone need convincing that it’s important to read aloud to toddlers and preschoolers—even babies? The concensus is pretty clear on that one, even among parents who don’t do it. Study after study has shown that there’s nothing like curling up with a kid and a book for improving language skills, literary appreciation, and simple cuddle time. The Enchanted Hour goes beyond those basic virtues to make a case for reading aloud to all ages, from the nursery to the nursing home.
Starting with the art of narration in the ancient world, Meghan Cox Gurdon traces a brief history of oral storytelling through the ages. These days we have a cornucopia of good children’s literature pouring out of the local library, but now the tyranny of screens threatens to suck up all our family relational time. Nothing, repeat, nothing can replace the sound of a loved one’s voice, not even a perfectly-produced audio book (though audio books do have their place). Reading aloud is foundational for little ones—tops for vocabulary building, cognitive development, and imaginative play. But it can also build family ties, foster healthful routines, open avenues of communication, strengthen bonds with a parent who’s away (examples of deployed parents reading to their kids via Skype are especially moving), and expand horizons.
One almost suspects Gurdon is overselling, but she backs up her claims with numerous personal examples, interviews, and scientific studies. She also builds a solid case for keeping on after the children are able to read for themselves—even after they’ve left the nest. Once you’ve developed the habit, why stop? Title X schools, family shelters, and senior centers would welcome a reader of good books. As an older mom whose kids are long gone and whose grandchildren live far away, I especially appreciated her ideas about reading to seniors and Alzheimer’s patients. Small talk is hard at this age; a good book can unlock memories and open a door to meaningful conversation.
This is a book every public library should have—if yours doesn’t, make a request that they purchase it. Then read it, for a shot of inspiration. And oh yes, the appendix includes eleven pages of book suggestions!
Overall Rating: 4.75 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4.5
- Artistic value: 5
See our interview with Meghan Cox Gurdon on “dark” subjects in YA.
Of course, we’re friends with Sarah MacKenzie–see our review of The Read-Aloud Family.