Partly in search of Doodlebug Club-appropriate books, but mostly because of my own interest in children’s books (I’ve always wanted to write them), I’ve become quite the regular at our local library. No really – they know me by name and when I walk in the door, head to the “holds” shelf, where I’ve usually got a stack of books waiting on me sent from libraries all over this part of North Carolina. And while I look for a few things in their stacks, I usually come back to the desk to find a librarian sneaking peeks at my books on hold. It’s pretty funny. And it doesn’t escape me that the whole scene is just a little nerdy on both our parts.
Some of my earliest memories are about being read to by my dad. He was then and is now an avid storyteller (and talker), but when I was a little ‘un, I was a strict by-the-book kind of kid. Like most kids, I selected the same books over and over, night in and night out, and I’m sure they got old. When Dad would try to be slick and skip a few pages or change the story around to make it more interesting, I would call him on it every time – announcing, “You’re not reading it right!” One time, he was inspired to tell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a story he told my brother and sister when they were younger. But this was no Goldilocks like you’ve ever heard it – the three bears were eating chili, not porridge, and they rode Harleys. I don’t remember much else because I would always demand the proper telling of the story. I’m always ribbed about this stickler-for-the-book-version nature back when I was a kid, and it’s only made worse because no one can get Dad to tell the wild versions anymore. At least, no one over the age of 6 and a half – I’m not sure if he’s been coerced by a grandkid yet or not.
Dad always read to me at bedtime, and it was usually a Dr. Seuss book – this is before the days when kids’ books were shortened into the tidy, short affairs most of them are now – have you read a Dr. Seuss book lately and tried to keep the attention of a four year old?! For some reason, I latched on to an old schoolbook that my mom picked up at an antique store, a first or second grade reader titled ‘Round About. The book was published in the 1930s or early 1940s as part of the Alice and Jerry series (similar to Dick and Jane books). There was a story in ‘Round About about twins named Bobby and Billy. I was obsessed with Bobby and Billy. I can still quote the beginning: “Bobby and Billy were twins. Bobby looked just like Billy. Billy looked just like Bobby. They wore hats just alike. They wore shoes just alike. They even had the very same birthday.” The story was about their birthday party, which had these mysterious (to this day) ice cream rabbits and ice cream ducks. I was fascinated. There were other stories in the book, of course, and I remember a few of them, but usually when I dragged this book out, which was frequently, “Bobby and Billy” was my request.
I recently read a book called The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Since I have many fond memories of being read to as a kid, I thought I was already on board with the whole reading-to-your-kid thing. I already had it in mind that being read to taught me a love of reading, as did coming from a family of readers (wow, what an understatement – all of us read incessantly and, I will admit, however unfair it might be, silently make character judgments about our family and friends according to how many (or few) books they have in their houses).
As a grown-up, I commute 45 minutes each way to work, and when I just can’t stand listening to the non-stop rehash of all the world’s problems on NPR (don’t get me wrong, I generally enjoy it, but it’s not a good wind-down-your-day thing sometimes), I listen to audio books (also from the library). *A* and I discovered audio books quite a long time ago when we listened to all of the Harry Potter books – Jim Dale’s voice, and all the other voices he does for the many characters in the books, keeps you entranced (which is good, because each book is 20-something hours long). Hearing a book read to you, even one you’ve read many times before, makes the story come alive in a different way. Especially if you have a good reader.
When I saw Trelease’s book at the library, I thought I’d see what the author had to say, but I was mostly interested in the “Giant Treasury of Great Read-Aloud Books” in the back of the book. He spent a significant part of the book on trying to convince his audience, primarily parents and teachers, I would assume, that reading aloud is important for a variety of things – it helps families bond and it gets kids interested in reading and learning, which in turn makes them do better in school, especially in the areas of reading and writing. The benefits just kept piling up.
Like I said, I didn’t need a lot of convincing – I was already on board. I don’t know if that’s everyone, though – by the sheer amount of time most kids spend in front of the t.v. or with video games and computers, and now on their phones, I think the level of persuasion Trelease found necessary to use in his book was probably appropriate. He spent page after page reviewing test scores of kids at various age levels comparing the amount of time they spend being read to to how well they performed on the test. I’m no fan of standardized tests, as I think they really only reflect how well you do on standardized tests, but I do think what he found pointed to bigger issues.
A professor friend of mine who was one of my mentors when I was a graduate student told me once about reading the Little House on the Prairie series to her then 8 or 9 year old son. I remember thinking at the time that that was pretty cool, and also probably fairly unusual, since he could read just fine on his own at that age. But then I thought about all the times in elementary school – even up to 6th grade – where teachers read to my class. It was always one of my favorite parts of the day. And I thought about how reading together allows you to spend time together each day – in addition to the physical closeness, it also eases the hectic nature of our daily lives for just a little while. I can understand how it makes sense to continue reading aloud together even when the kid can already read. In The Read-Aloud Handbook, the author recommends reading to kids even when they are well into their teenage years for this same reason. And actually, for several years now, *A* and I have read short stories to each other before we go to sleep – we have a favorite author whose books we read in October and November especially – I’ll write more about her later, as she deserves her own post. It’s a good time to decompress and get our minds off whatever has bothered us that day. It’s time we both look forward to, and it’s a tradition that I think we’ll always continue.
Reading together as just the two of us also gives us time to practice our reading-aloud voices for when we’re more than just the two of us. I think we’ve both got a lot of work to do before we sound anything like Jim Dale. If you have the misfortune of being unfamiliar with Jim Dale as a reader of audio books, check out this excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Jim Dale also did an interview on how the Harry Potter audio books in particular have attracted millions of children to the series, kids who then put down their video games and left behind their t.v. and computer screens to pick up a book. Pretty interesting. I know I’m sold.