Monday, November 21, 2011

Reading Aloud : November

I've written before on reading aloud to my kids. It started as a fluke event then morphed into a Thing We Do. I used to read aloud at night, before bed, but the pleas for 'one more chapter' became a wrench, because sometimes it was ME who wanted the one more chapter. Also, when the book was on the, err, dramatic side I hesitated to read it right before bed, because some of us had night terrors. Black riders and blazing eyes in towers don't always go down well in dreamland.

Then I started reading in the mornings, while we were all still soft and malleable from our nighttime dreams. This is a good state for one's audience to be in; it's highly forgiving, particularly if one likes to experiment with thick Scottish brogues or there are songs or poems to be sung within the storyline. That time period clicked, because we could read for more than thirty minutes without the repercussions a lack of sleep invokes. Thus, every weekday morning for the past seven years I have read aloud at breakfast time. We've ploughed through a lot of books this way: books I wanted them to read; books they would never have read on their own; books that were above their reading level; and books that I wanted to read myself. One day in the future, when the kids are long out of the house and I'm tottering around here on my own, wondering how it got so quiet (and clean) all of a sudden, it will be what I recall the most clearly and miss the mostly deeply.

How do I choose a book to read aloud? I have three usual methods:

1) The book is something I read and loved as a kid. This works if you were a passionate reader or if you grew up with a passionate reader (presuming you paid attention to the passionate reader's choices, that is).

2) The book has a Newbery Award imprint on the cover and is languishing cheaply on the shelves at our local Sally Ann. This is probably my number one method of finding books. Someone in my neighbourhood bought a lot of good books for their children, for which I am thankful. Now if only I could find someone in my neighbourhood who would pass on their Williams-Sonoma cast-offs...

3) I've heard about it from someone, or FDPG has heard about it from somewhere and has recalled it for us to read. FDPG has the library collection data base on speed-dial. Kidding? Me?

Another method I am leery of mentioning, because it's not terribly reliable, is using Amazon as a search function: look up a book you know and like, then see what the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" has to say for itself.

Anyhow, Method No. 2 is how we got ourselves onto the James Herriot omnibus this month. I'm 479 pages into the book and we're all just as delighted with it now as we were on page 12. I don't remember being as struck by his prose style when I was a kid, reading it under the covers at night, wanting desperately to be a vet when I grew up, but reading it aloud now it's hard not to notice it. Every word counts in his stories. Not a single note is wasted. Then there's his comic skill; he's a very funny man who is able to tell stories so that the reader can see the humour just as clearly as the writer. At this point I feel quite confident in saying that my kids worship the ground Tristan walks on. Every puff of Woodbine smoke, every pint of beer, every hangover or silly antic, they love it all. He's probably going to down in our pantheon of Dearly Beloved Characters, right alongside Laura Ingalls, Frodo, Harry, Ron, & Hermione, Chrestomanci, Wol & Weeps, White Fang, Howl, John, Susan, Titty & Roger, and the entire Durrell family. But I think what I love most about this series is the resilient attitude the author has about the fact that he had to spend a good deal of his time in very uncomfortable situations: his car has no heat, he has to go out at all hours, he often works in inhospitable surroundings, with recalcitrant patients, and in unforgiving weather. And through it all he has the best of attitudes. These kinds of books are sneaky: they can't help but provide a contrast for my kids about how easy and cosy their own lives are in comparison, but they also show them another, more valuable lesson: life is what you make of it. I like that kind of lesson in a book.

For more on the topic of Read Alouds, click on the "Little House" or "Book Reviews" link on the left hand column of my blog, under Labels.

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