The reason why

Theirs but to do and die

The cover image here was going to be just for fun, because I like the title and (yes, I’ll admit it) I really like Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” (1) partly because it’s got a nice horsey rhythm to it and partly because I always think of them as holding something like a nineteenth-century light saber. I guess that would be a light sabre, really. More to the point, I was going to use the title of this book to make some sort of clever segue. Maybe. But then I realized, as I checked the back to see who did the proud-looking soldiers on the cover, that it’s yet another cover-artist-turned-children’s-book-creator. This one’s by Jim McMullan, best known recently for his series with wife Kate: I’m Big!, I Stink!, I’m Dirty! etc. Brilliant!
The books itself is about the actual charge, which was somewhat less glorious, I am led to believe, that the poetic version. The title comes from the lines, “Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die/Into the valley of Death/Rode the six hundred.” I’m going to appropriate that title and apply it to the world of children’s reading. So here, in graphic form, is The Reason Why:
quote from becoming a nation of readers
 This is probably the best-known quote from the 1985 study put out by the National Committee on Reading, Becoming a Nation of Readers (2). You knew it already, didn’t you? It’s something I tell parents often. It’s the reason why we should continue to read aloud to kids long after they are able to read on their own. It’s cheap, it’s fun, and darn it, it works!  Perhaps the best message of the report, along with that pull-out quote, is the idea that we never stop learning to read. There is no point at which we can say, I’m as good a reader as I’ll ever be, or, I’m as good a reader as I need to be, because reading is the act of creating meaning from a text, and we never run out of opportunities to stretch and challenge our ability to do that.
And here it is in bookmark form (click to enlarge; print if you want to):

Some of my favorite read-alouds: Emily Jenkins’s Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party; Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck (see if this one doesn’t win the Schneider Family Award); anything by Eva Ibbotson; Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society; Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess (I do a creditable Sara Crewe and a truly awful Becky); and Charise Mericle Harper’s Just Grace series.


1. Listen to Tennyson himself read it here. Read along because for some reason the recording isn’t exactly high def.

2. Read the full report here. It’s only 155 pages, and you won’t be sorry you took the time.