Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reading aloud to Lily

When I was a kid I saved all my children's books because I wanted to share them with the children I knew I would have. So I was pretty bummed that Lily never seemed interested in any of them, and more -- If I expressed interest, she'd never touch the book. When she was reading Harriet the Spy I made a comment about it and she didn't pick it up for a year.

Last spring I read something that said just because your child knows how to read doesn't mean you should stop reading to them. I knew this, of course, but the moment Lily could read she told us very clearly we were not to read aloud to her any more. (During our first winter in Amherst I did read Tom Sawyer as we sat around in the kitchen, a great one to read aloud because you can do so many fabulous voices, but we never did finish it. Injun Joe had just jumped out the window of the court room. Some time we'll pick it back up.)

Next, I picked up a CD set of Madeline L'Engle reading my favorite book of all time, A Wrinkle in Time, which we all listened to in the car. I'm not sure how much Lily got of it but we ended up getting out of sync, I'd listen when I went places on my own, and Dave would listen, and Lily stopped listening, I think. I finished first, and then one day I found Dave sitting in the car in the garage listening to the lasat chapter. Not sure I could have read that book aloud, anyway, as parts of it always make me very teary. I think Lily ended up reading it to herself later.

After school got out I decided to read The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander to her. This was my favorite fantasy series from when I first read it in, oh, third grade. It's the retelling of Welsh myths and it's extraordinary. That's also when I defined for myself what a good series is -- a set of books that essentially tell one long story, where the characters reappear every time, loose ends are tied up in the end, and yet each can stand alone on their own merits. The definition of Harry Potter, and the reason I never cared for the Narnia series, which were all over the map and didn't include all four kids in every book. Plus I got impatient with the overt Christianity.

This trick ended up working great, and it helps that I love to read aloud: I started the book and read a chapter with all my best voices. Lily begged for another one, and I'd either read it or not. But after several nights there was no good stopping place, it was all exciting, and when I came in the next night she had picked it up on her own and read. This happened several times. At first I was to reread the parts she'd read, but eventually she finished the book. I started the second one, The Black Cauldron, and same thing happened there. By the time she got to the end by herself she no longer needed me to start the next book, she simply barreled through the rest of the five on her own.

I think The Good Master by Kate Seredy followed. This and its sequel, The Singing Tree, were very important to me as a child because my father is Hungarian and these are about a Hungarian rancher and his family around the time of World War I. Again, Lily ended up finishing the first one herself, but we couldn't get into The Singing Tree, which is about the First World War. It's a little intense and talks about heavy things like anti-semitisim and the rise of fascism; also Seredy is trying to absolve the Hungarians of their complicity with the Nazis. Maybe Lily will read it when she's older, or maybe I'll finish it next summer.

The last great read-aloud of the summer was Gentle Ben by Walt Morey. Do not confuse this with the dreadful TV series and TV movies. It's a great book about a salmon-fishing family in pre-state Alaska who adopt a full-grown brown bear. Dave would come up at bedtime just to hear the next installment. I got embarrassed because I cried while reading a couple of times, but they were very nice about it. Lily never did read it on her own, thank goodness; when she does that I find I also have to finish the damn thing myself again.

By the end of the summer, as school was starting, I tried to read her the Little House books, which hold a special place in my heart. I learned to read because of the cover to Little House in the Big Woods: I was dying to know what was going on with that girl and her doll and the smiling bearded dad and the rifle over the door. One day, when I was four, Cate sat me down and said, it's time to learn to read, and showed me Dick and Jane, and that was it. I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder in flash.

I had to kind of insist that she continue to read them at first, but once Lily got into them, she was hooked. She finished The First Five Years a few weeks ago and has already reread These Happy Golden Years a couple of times. She hasn't gotten through Farmer Boy but she's read the rest and ogled over the photos in some related House books I have (there's quite an industry that's grown up around them).

There's a few others. I found They Loved To Laugh at a book sale this fall. She's not interested. And I do wish she'd try King of the Wind and Born to Trot by Marguerite Henry, two books I read over and over and over as a kid. But she is utterl y uninterested. Maybe those'll be next summers read-alouds.

We have to cull through the stuff she's not interested in again, although she still reverts to the occasional Warriors (I think she's finally outgrown The Babysitters Club, thank god) and Harry Potter (can't judge her for that). But she's also reading a lot of other stuff now and I think she's turned a kind of literary corner. One of her favorite words these days is "inappropriate," as in when Dave and I kiss, that's inappropriate, and a novel she was reading that I picked up at work recently mentions training bras and something about pee. Inappropriate, indeed!

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