Books fall open, / you fall in, /delighted where, /you’ve never been.
Hear voices /not once heard before, /Reach world through world, /through door on door.
Find unexpected /keys to things, /locked up beyond /imaginings….
True books will venture, /Dare you out, /Whisper secrets, /Maybe shout,
across the gloom, /to you in need /Who hanker for /a book to read.”
— David McCord
We’re reading “A Wrinkle in Time” these days. Or at least, I’m reading it aloud and the children are listening. Throughout their lives, I have tried to pick books that are just above their reading levels, or books that they just wouldn’t encounter often. I try to read chapter books that are “hard” for them.
It saddens my heart that my children do not love to read books the way that I do. Elizabeth will read short fiction books about silly girl issues to get the Accelerated Reader points at school, and Ray will read non-fiction books about WWII and science out of interest in the subject matter, but they are not inclined to head for the long chapter books for escape. But then, they are having very different childhoods than I did. I grew up an only child with no access to television, and living far away from other children. Books became my solace, my companions, my escape. Even as a grown up, I will read during times of stress, times of boredom and times of renewal. My mother and I used to have reading time together, where she would read her book on her bed, and I would stretch out beside her and read my book. We would breathe in rhythm and share in the experience- blinking at each other when one of us would move.
I read to my students when I was the classroom. Everyday after lunch, I would read for 10 minutes and then they would read silently for 10 minutes. It was unstructured, and lovely and far too short. And so I try to read to my children. I vary my voice for each character- adding accents, intonations and feeling- and I add sound effects. I do not stop and ask comprehension questions (but I answer them); I do not explain hard words (But I provide synonyms if I’m asked); I do not stop the flow of the story. I want us to be in that place the author writes about- not in an academic exercise.
I have started and stopped so many books- good books- that for some reason, didn’t resonate with them. Or they had a hard time following. Or the ADHD kicked in. Or we were packing/unpacking and the thread of the story was lost. Or Elizabeth was in a place where she couldn’t process auditory information. Or Ray was too bouncy/oppositional to listen. Or either of them couldn’t handle my voice changing characters and reacted to my changed accents with extreme irritation. It is a challenge to figure out when to keep going, when to stop, and when to change books. Reading aloud with my children is an act of navigation.
We have started and stopped:
- Little Women
- Jack and Jill
- Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates
- Little House on the Prairie
- Treasure Island
- Harry Potter (The first one- we have started it at least 15 times, but something always interrupts it…sigh)
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
- The Lightening Thief (too scary about 3/4 of the way through)
- Gulliver’s Travels- Bored me, too…
But our list of successes is pretty wonderful. I have read aloud, and they have been passionately involved in, the stories of:
- Winnie the Pooh
- Little House in the Big Woods
- Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
- Black Beauty
- Harriet the Spy
- The Secret Garden
- The Phantom Tollbooth
- and now… A Wrinkle in Time
Each book takes about a month and half to read- which is a long time to maintain a story line- a long time to maintain a schedule- a long time to maintain attention. We generally don’t pick up another book for a while once we finish one. But the good books- they just make schedules, attention, and plot lines so easy. Last night, when Meg Murray says “Oh MOTHER!” in response to her mother saying that she still plays with dolls in front of Calvin, Elizabeth laughed so hard she cried. Ray was asking questions about what it means to be different and smart. They acted out the scene where Mrs. Whatsit fell over backwards after pulling off her boot. They’re hooked. And while they may not understand the allegorical aspects of the story, they get the power of the literature.
So many books- so few years. I see the children growing up and I know that the days of my reading to them are numbered. I look at my bookshelves of books that I have kept since I was a little girl- kept because I loved them and I wanted my children to love them. And I hope that we will get a chance to read:
- Anne of Green Gables
- The Chronicles of Narnia- all of them!
- Harry Potter- all of them, too (although that probably won’t happen..)
- Island of the Blue Dolphins…
I hope we get to them all… and I hope that we continue to have nights like we did last night, where in the soft yellow light of the living room light, the children sat on the couch with me and hung onto my every word- laughing at the clever writing, smiling at the human moments, and looking concerned about the impending climax.
A perfect performance, a perfect audience, a perfect moment.