Unplug and read a book
Remember fairy tales? I mean the kind parents used to read to their children and the kind children used to read for themselves once they were old enough. We're talking back before Walt Disney cornered the market on longtime classic tales such as "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Peter Pan."
Our little house was filled with books back when I was growing up. My mama would scrimp and scrape and do without to buy books for us and Miss Mae Hardman made sure I had access to every book in the local library that was fit to read. Plus, I would trade books with a few of my buddies like Wayne Penn, who liked to read as much as me.
"Little Red Riding Hood" was always the scariest and there were a couple of versions. Sometimes the hunters came and killed the Big Bad Wolf before he could kill Red. In that version Grandma was just hiding in a back closet somewhere. There was one really graphic account of the story in which the wolf ate Grandma and Red, but through the magic only available in the land of happily ever after, the woodsmen cut open the wolf and rescued Red and her granny.
One of my favorite stories coming up was "Great Big Billy Goat Gruff." Pay a toll to the troll! The troll got his in the end.
I tried to read Barry's original play of "Peter Pan," but it was a lot different than the one that came on television once a year. Y'all remember it. It starred Mary Martin who would eventually grow up to become J.R. Ewing's mother. Tinker was about to die and every child in the world had to wish her back to life by clapping and repeating "I do believe in fairies," over and over.
Then there were the stories Disney made into classic animated films -- "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Aladdin" and "The Little Mermaid."
I suppose kids quit reading story books when such high-quality versions of them became available on DVD and could be viewed repeatedly in one's own living room.
It is a shame, too. Reading fosters imagination and thinking. When children are reading a book they must decide how the characters look and sound and interact. They greatly expand their vocabulary, too.
The books are still out there and the stories are more popular than ever. My whole family fell in love with a show called "Once Upon a Time" last year and we saw a new slant to stories about Pinocchio and Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel.
There was another darker show based on the stories of Grimms Fairy Tales --and they were pretty grim indeed. Fairy tales are hitting the big screen, too. There was a thriller about "Red Riding Hood" last fall and a plethora of movies about werewolves and vampires. There are two summer blockbusters about Snow White -- one played for laughs by Julia Roberts and another darker version.
There is little wonder that these tales have stood the test of time. They are excellent literature written by excellent writers.
It is times like these that I wish I had grandchildren, so I could make sure that they were read to, just as I was read to and just as my own children were read to. I can think of nothing sadder than a household absent of books -- unless it is a parent who doesn't care enough to make sure their children are well versed in the written word.
Here's an idea for you. If you are a parent or grandparent, give your child or grandchild the greatest gift they could ever receive. Turn off the cellphones, just for this summer. Make them learn to have a conversation with their friends. Cut off their thumbs -- or at least their texts. Limit their television and time in front of the computer.
They will whine and complain and pitch a hissy fit and call you the meanest, most out-of-touch person on earth. Doesn't matter.
Sit them down and make them read. How much a student reads on his and her own is the No. 1 factor that determines how well they do in school. How well they do in school is the No. 1 determinate in how well they do in life. If you want the best for your child, show them you love them. Unplug them for the next four weeks and make them read.
You can thank me later.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at email@example.com. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.