At one time in the past I was browsing Reddit and stumbled on some thread where Redditors were doing what they do best, which is complaining about the existence of children. In this instance, the particular grievance was that children require reading to, and children’s books are boring, especially when you’ve read them a hundred times already. The Gruffalo was given as an exemplar of a boring children’s book.

Well, I’ve been reading to my child for months now and I’m sure I’m reaching the hundred mark with some of these books — possibly including The Gruffalo. I can safely say these Redditors were missing the point (say it ain’t so!).

I’m sure you, dear visitor, are better-adjusted than the average Redditor and don’t require convincing that reading a child a bedtime story is actually quite a nice thing to do. But let’s celebrate the joys of this simple habit regardless.

  1. It’s quality time with your child. I work too much at the moment. After work, it’s a mad rush to get everyone fed and to bed (before resuming work, natch). On the average weekday, quality time with the little one can be in short supply. But embedding bedtime stories into our routine all but guarantees my son gets my undivided attention for at least 15 minutes — and this is the last thing he experiences before settling to sleep.

  2. It’s a ritual. As Ted Gioia recently reminded me, rituals are part of the antidote to our modern culture of overwork and hyperstimulation. The importance of ritual in the Good Life goes back to Confucius. Rituals are about creating “sacred” contexts in which the ordinary habits and roles of life are put aside, and attention is devoted to observance of the ritual. The repetitive nature of a ritual is part of the point.

    The bedtime story is a ritual. The everyday distractions — for me, digital devices; for my child, toys — are put away. We adopt the roles of reader and listener, cuddler and cuddled. My child knows instinctively that something special is happening when we sit down for bedtime stories. It is our developed grown-up brains that rationalise it into something else.

  3. It’s a performance . The most effective way to prevent reading the same story over and over to your child becoming boring and stale is to think of it as a performance. Tonight you won’t just be reading The Gruffalo to your child; you’ll be giving him or her the best reading of The Gruffalo they’ve ever had. My reading of The Gruffalo kicks ass, and no, I’m not bored of it. Play with intonation. Do silly voices. Play games with the words and illustrations. Whatever it takes to delight them.

  4. Your child will surprise you. Young children change so rapidly, yet in our busy and distracted world we often miss the little things that change day-to-day. But in the quiet of the evening, during the ritual of the bedtime story, we have an opportunity to witness these little changes. If you pay attention to what they pay attention to, the illustrations they point out, the connections they make, your child can surprise you over and over again. And the more you read to them, the faster they learn. You’ll get back what you put in, if you allow your child to show you.

  5. You’ll inspire them to love books. If you make books loveable, by turning reading into a special ritual with a performance that delights them, then your child will love them. Despite all his cool toys and light up and make noises, my boy is captivated by books, and he can’t even read them yet. He picks up books of his own accord and repeats the words he can remember from each page, and searches for his favourite things in the illustrations. With any luck, this is the first step to a lifelong love of reading.