One thing that gives a reader the confirmation that they just read a great book is that the book took them on a ride. It drew them in and had them feeling that they were part of the story. Is this true for you? Even as a child reads a story, you can tell when they really like it; they ask for it to be read again and again. If you look deeper, you will find that the reason why they liked it so much was because the story became an adventure to them. Every sense had been tickled. The sights, the sounds, the tastes and smells, and yes, even touch can be affected by a good book.
Most children live in a home or apartment in a city or suburb. So, for a story to take them into a different world, like the land of the Wild Things or through the woods of Narnia, the writer must be descriptive of what is going on around the reader. Capturing mental images is the key to getting hold of the reader and giving them the feeling of separation from the real world. If you put a book down and you have to regain your bearings because you are reminding yourself where you are, then you are reading a good book.
Our children experience this same sensation, but since they are little, they don’t know how to convey it. It is important for us as parents to guide our kids into understanding their emotions. Reading can take them on incredible journeys. Teach them that it is okay to temporarily live in Whoville, The Hundred Acre Wood, or even something as simple as the home of a little mouse who likes to eat cookies. Then teach them to explain their experience in words of their own. Bringing it home will etch the book in their minds even into adulthood.
Sight goes beyond a green pillow on a red chair on top of blue carpet. It about finding the balance of what the writer is trying to capture and the interpretation the reader puts into it. Because despite how many descriptive words the writer uses, the reader will always see what they want to see. This is why a good book will hand the reader just enough to give a general setting, then he allows the reader to use experience to fill in the gaps. Even a child has experiences that will help them leave the confines of their bedroom and dive into the world of a good book.
Sounds are a little different than sights. Colors and shapes are specific objects. But sounds are harder to describe. The crack of a whip. With those words, all of you reading this can hear that sound in your mind. If you have never heard a whip being flung out and the sound of the little tails breaking the sound barrier, then you could be clueless about the meaning of the phrase. The writer and reader must be on common ground to fully pull off delivery and reception of what is going on in a story.
In the Three Little Pigs when the wolf huffs and puffs, children can hear that. And a little parent ingenuity helps the writer’s cause. The wolf is not the only one who does some puffing. The Little Engine that Could does her own puffing, and she also does some ‘Choo-chooing.’ Most children know the sounds of a train, either from seeing one or hearing on television. So, the sounds written can deliver the experience to their ears.
The beeping of a car horn, the bark of a dog, and the sound of change jingling in a pocket are all sounds that when said, the reader can hear in their heads. It is when you come across a noise that is unfamiliar that it becomes difficult to understand a writer’s meaning. Sounds like an air raid siren, roar of a waterfall, or a screech of an owl some of us have never heard. This is when a writer relies on two words, ‘like’ and ‘as.’ These will give comparisons to things we may be familiar with and attribute them to stuff we are not.
Touch, Smell, and Taste
These three senses are similar to sounds but can be a bit harder to capture. Just as sounds are created by “like” and “as” phrasing, so are the final three senses. The ground was cold as ice, the air smelled like flowers, the gum tasted like strawberries. The point of “like” and “as” statements is to take word picture and to rely on the reader’s experiences to capture the full essence of what the writer is trying to say.
The surface of bark, the silkiness of a rose petal, the coolness of water in a lake are all senses of touch. Touch can also encompass feeling. Fear, Anxiety, and Happiness all rely on experience to elicit their emotional response. Writers take what they expect their reader to have lived through to transport the reader to the moment they felt that emotion. Then carry that into the experience of the character they are writing about.
The smell of ocean air is a unique scent. I know there are those who live in the Midwest who have lived their entire lives without the opportunity to know that smell. Conveying that in writing is difficult. But the smell of buttered popcorn, most of us can relate to. Writers take what we know and wrap their prose around it to bring us further into their stories.
Just as buttered popcorn can bring our noses into a movie theater, it can also place on our tongues the flavor of that tasty snack. Even bad flavors like black licorice, spoiled milk, and brussel sprouts can make a reader’s nose squish up because they remember. Even merely saying the word brings back the taste, even for a moment.
The more adventures your child has in real life, the more he or she will be able to relate to what they read. They will be able to pull from their toolbox of life experience and be able to know what it looks like to walk along a river. They will know the sound of the ‘oink’ of a pig, ‘bang’ of a hammer, “crash” of waves on the seashore, and the “thump’ of a ball bouncing. They will know what it feels like to jump out of a tree, ride a roller coaster, or prick your finger with a rose thorn. They will be able to recall the smell of a campfire or the smell of the animals at the zoo. They will be able to taste all the flavors of everything the Very Hungry Caterpillar ate, well almost everything.
Allowing reading to saturate your child’s senses has much to do with them living life. Unfortunately, children today do not understand the statement, “Go outside and play.” They do not comprehend that we used to go outside from the second we finished our breakfast and didn’t come back in until it got too dark to play outside. Technology has taken the place of physical activity. Video games ‘simulate’ riding a skateboard, playing basketball, and running around.
If a child does not experience a splinter in a finger from climbing a tree, then they can’t understand the elephant’s predicament and the relief the little mouse gives him. If they never go to a park, then they can’t grasp the sights and sounds of trees and squirrels. Fill your child’s toolbox with experiences of life. The ones we grew up with. Then they can draw on those as they read and gain the satisfying experience of a good book.