If I was to ever write an advice book for expectant parents, one of the first things that I would say to them would be to make time to read with your children from the moment they are born. I could easily spend the remainder of this post discussing language development and literacy, in general. But, as important as that is, I would also stress to new parents the equally important aspect of the bonding that takes place between parent and child when you hold your newly born baby close to your beating heart and share stories together. If you are lucky, the act of sharing stories and songs will inspire your child to develop a love of language and of reading and of personal discovery. My wife and I feel very fortunate that both of our daughters have grown into literate, knowledgeable young women who are critical consumers of information and who also simply enjoy a good read when time allows.
Some of my fondest memories as a father to date stem from reading with my girls when they were younger. Because of the way my wife and I divided up our parental responsibilities, I ended up reading mostly with my eldest daughter, Leah. My wife spent the bedtime ritual mostly with our youngest daughter, Sophie. For Leah and I, reading together was a very special part of our day. We started out with picture books but Leah’s ability to attend for longer periods of time rapidly grew, which meant that our reading material soon transitioned over into chapter books. If a book she liked happened to be part of a series, then Leah liked to read the whole series. We started out with easier chapter book series such as Magic Tree House and the Rainbow Magic fairy books. Before long, we were into the Harry Potter books, The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables and so on. Along the way, Leah discovered some interesting newer books that ended up becoming a series in their own right. One of the best of these started with a book called How To Train Your Dragon by British author Cressida Cowell. What started out as one book grew to become a series of twelve. Leah and I read them all. Three feature-length movies have been released, too. Leah and I have seen those, too. In time, Leah grew up and asked that she be allowed to read on her own at bedtime because she could read books faster to herself than I could read aloud. She also wanted to start exploring books that involved more grown up themes that were better suited to the actual events of her teenage life. So, our bedtime reading ritual came to an end…sort of. What has happened is that we have transitioned to reading together at bedtime to reading together online. Leah is one of the most faithful readers of my blog. I appreciate her comments and the questions that she asks about what I write. In turn, she has her own book-related blog (which you can check out here). She always asks me to proofread her posts before she hits the publish button. I enjoy reading what she writes, too. She is a pretty amazing writer.
Getting back to How To Train Your Dragon, on the surface, the series involves a community of Vikings who live on the rugged, rocky Island of Berk. As the series begins, these Vikings feel threatened by a wide assortment of dragons who steal their sheep and burn their homes with regularity. One of rites of passage for young Vikings is that they have to capture and train a wild dragon, taming it for a life of servitude under Viking rule. Like many book series, the main characters are younger. In How To Train Your Dragon, we get to follow a young Viking named Hiccup Horrendous the Third and his friends as they grow up together in this dangerous world of Vikings and dragons. But again, like most series of this type, what you see on the surface is not the real message of the books. As Hiccup and his friends grow up, they soon discover that dragons are not their enemies and should not be viewed as an enslaved workforce waiting to be captured and subdued into obedience. Instead, Hiccup and his friends come to respect dragons as being sentient beings in their own right and discover that it is possible to establish relationships with them based upon mutual respect and tolerance. Taken to the next level, it seems obvious that the lessons meted out in these twelve books could easily be adapted to the real world. Instead of Vikings and dragons, we could have capitalists vs communists, white nationalists vs immigrants, heterosexuals vs anyone who chooses to love differently, men vs women, the super rich vs the rest of us and so on it goes.
The musical score of the movie How To Train Your Dragon was created by a composer named John Powell. Mr. Powell is famous for creating the scores for animated feature-length films and has worked on many popular movies such as Happy Feet, Chicken Run, Rio, Shrek, Horton Hears a Who and many more. Powell trained under the mentorship of film scorer extraordinaire Hans Zimmer. Like Zimmer, John Powell has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards and, as well, for an Academy Award for Best Score for today’s film, How To Train Your Dragon. The soundtrack for this movie is almost all orchestral/instrumental. In order to best illustrate the difference a great score can make, I am going to share three videos of the opening composition entitled “This Is Berk”. In the first video, I shall share with you the opening scene as it appears in the film (complete with dialogue and special effects sounds, too). In the second video, I will share the same scene, except this time it will only have the orchestral music present. Finally, I will share with you a live performance by an actual orchestra that took place as part of the international animation awards. In this video, you can watch the orchestra play live against the backdrop of a huge screen that is showing the opening of the movie. Taken together, all three videos give you a glimpse behind the scenes at how a film score works in conjunction with dialogue and special effects. Specifically, in the case of How To Train Your Dragon, you will get to see how this saga of tolerance and empathy begins on an isolated island teeming with fear and ignorance. You will also be introduced to Hiccup, who is one of the great characters in modern children’s literature (a worthy peer to the likes of Harry Potter, Laura Ingalls, Anne with an “e”, Jack and Annie, Prince Caspian and so many more).
On a more personal note for my area readers, there is going to be a special screening of the original How To Train Your Dragon movie on Saturday, April 22 here in Cobourg. The screening will be held at the Rainbow Cinemas and is a fundraiser for the fantastic local charity The Rose Quest. (You can visit the official Rose Quest website here for more information). So, if you want to see a sweeping, epic animated story on the big screen, with its Academy Award winning score and wonderful message of tolerance and understanding, all the while supporting a great cause, then you know where to go and what to do.
For now, I will end this post as it began. The Arts have a unique ability to touch the hearts of those who experience them. Reading with my children enriched my life and helped my heart grow. Because of books and stories, we got to discuss all manner of subject matter, visit museums as a follow up, listen to music, watch movies together and much, much more. The most important part of that last sentence is that we got to share these experiences together. Spending time with those you love is the ultimate luxury. I wouldn’t have traded a single second of anything that I did with my girls. Life is truly a gift. I will conclude with a simple birthday wish for Leah (whose birthday is today): may your days ahead continue to be filled with opportunities to experience the world in the company of those you love, whether that be with your mother and I, your sister, your extended family, your friends or with your life partner who is out there waiting to meet you right now! Your company has always been like a treasure to all who are lucky enough to know you. May you feel that in your heart always and forever. Thanks for being you. Happy birthday.
The link to the video for the song “This Is Berk” (the complete opening scene) from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.
The link to the video for the song “This Is Berk” (the opening scene with music only) from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.
The link to the video of a live performance of “This Is Berk” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.
The link to the video for the trailer for the film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.
The link to an article written about the books Leah and I ended up reading together can be found here. (It was a guest post I wrote for a friend who runs the fabulous website Happy Hooligans. This website is all about children learning through play. It has scores of activities, craft and cooking ideas and so on. As websites for children go, Happy Hooligans is the gold standard in my opinion).
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