Trade in Screen Time for Story Time With “The Enchanted Hour”
The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction
by Meghan Cox Gurdon
Book Review by Amy Kellestine
In an era where busyness is worn as a badge of honor and screens are ubiquitous, suggesting an hour of story time a day feels like a frivolous luxury. However, Meghan Cox Gurdon argues it is anything but in “The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction”. In it, she shows that reading aloud is not simply a quaint tradition of little consequence, but rather something invaluable. She sets a bold yet simple goal of getting families to put down their devices and pick up books to read aloud to each other. Unfortunately, however, this book felt more like a long-winded lecture than an inspired manifesto.
Gurdon is well positioned to offer her insights and experiences. She is a mother of five, a children’s book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal, and a self-admitted lover of reading aloud (logging up to an hour and a half reading to her own children when they were younger). Beyond her own experience, she draws on a wide range of studies from experts including neuroscientists, pediatricians, speech language pathologists, and early educators. Gurdon has a clear talent for weaving in the facts and figures alongside anecdotes and personal reflections.
The data was extremely compelling. Every single study clearly illustrated that screen use and happiness are inversely related. “Reading regularly with young children stimulates optimal patterns of brain development, […] strengthens parent-child relationships, which […] builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime.” Additionally, a few delightful tidbits of trivia were sprinkled throughout, including that a “rhapsode” was someone who memorized and recited epic poems like Homer’s “Odyssey”.
However, the volume of data ultimately became repetitive. There are only so many ways to say that reading is good before another study becomes redundant. Additionally, Gurdon used several lengthy book excerpts, with commentary, to illustrate concepts like how interactive reading fosters a rich vocabulary. These passages became tedious and I found myself happily skipping ahead a few pages each time they appeared.
I also struggled with the book choices Gurdon made to emphasize her points. Novels like “Dracula” and “Treasure Island”, and poems like “Kubla Khan”, are literary masterpieces, and I recognize the importance of leveraging well-known titles for their recognition factor. But Gurdon’s book list felt too much to me like required reading for an English class. Luckily, she acknowledges the selections are simply favourites for her family. I will take her up on her suggestion to choose other titles to enjoy in my own enchanted hours. Her seven-page extended list of “More Suggested Stories for Reading Aloud”, organized by category from “Adventures in the Wide World” to “Wordless Picture Books”, has several options that look more inviting to me.
“The Enchanted Hour” originated from a 2015 article in the Wall Street Journal called “The Great Gift of Reading Aloud”. While this long-form version is well-researched and well-written, Gurdon’s passion unfortunately trends toward pedantic. If you already love English literature and are looking for some practical tips and encouragement to make more time to read to your children, then this book is for you. Otherwise, might I suggest a trip to your local library? You might just find something fun to read, without the lecture on why it matters.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.