The lovely ladies over at Three Thinking Mothers are posting about read-aloud books this week, which gets this post off of the back burner for me. It's one I've had in mind for a while.
We used to read chapter books with the kids all the time. Charlotte's Web, Harry Potter, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, others I've long forgotten. And then, one day, we didn't. I don't know why we stopped, but I realized that we hadn't read together in a very, very long time. It made me sad and a little wistful.
As I was doing some reading in preparation to homeschool D, I came across this book: The Read-Aloud Handbook. (Honestly, I think Mary told me about it, since she is my trusted source for a million different wonderful things.) Jim Trelease advocates for reading aloud at all ages, even teenagers. And especially, especially my elementary-aged kids. He also gives some fabulous recommendations for books for all ages. I knew D and I would be reading aloud a lot, but I loved the idea of all six of us gathering around a book and sharing it again.
I showed the book to my husband, and he agreed. I quickly took over the reading duties in spite of wanting to sit and knit--call it the frustrated actress in me. We started out with a Rudyard Kipling classic, Rikki Tikki Tavi, this summer. We were hooked. I would have returned to more Kipling (it is a short story) but we were headed to Boston and I adore E.B. White, so it was Trumpet of the Swan for us next. Oh, how I will treasure the memory of reading about crazy Louis the Swan as we were gathered in the little living room on our houseboat in Boston Harbor!
Next up was Lassie, the real book which is nothing at all like the sappy television show. I had to hand that book off to my husband just a couple of times because I was crying so hard, but it was absolutely marvelous. In fact, I think that one was easier to take as a read-aloud because the dialogue is written in dialect! I got to try out my Yorkshire, London, Edinburgh, and North Scot accents because that is exactly how the book is written. Great fun for dog lovers and anyone who loves a good adventure. But...it is incredibly sad or moving at times. The poverty, injury, and death are not whitewashed, but that seems to respect the kids more. In not cutting that part out, somehow the author has communicated that life is tough but the child can handle it. We were all so sad at certain parts of that book. Truly, I have tears in my eyes thinking about one particular chapter right now. The ending is beautiful, too--just keep the Kleenex handy.
And so we have moved on to Black Ships Before Troy, Rosemary Sutcliff's fabulous retelling of the Illiad, complete with beautiful illustrations. My middle-school boys actually spied this one as soon as I brought it home from the library and devoured it on their own. They are thoroughly enjoying hearing it out loud, too. The girls like the story best when there is less killing and more about the ladies, but too bad for them that we are in some pretty heavy battle scenes right now.
What is it like reading with "older" kids, meaning ages 13, 11, 10 and 7? Much better than you might think, and so worth the effort. Everyone can sit and listen with minimal fidgeting. And our books can be a little more interesting for the grown-ups. It truly is a peaceful way to end the day--all six of us pile onto a sectional sofa and listen. The biggest disruptions are at the beginning of each evening while every jostles to get "their" spot.
We have adapted very quickly to our new routine. Sharing a book is sharing an experience. While I don't homeschool all the kids, this is a way for us to have at least one shared experience every single day. I really love that. It also gives me some control over what is going into their heads. (This week, murder and mayhem. Next week, hopefully something lighter.) I also have some issues with the assigned novels at my kids' school, so this is a great way to round out what they are exposed to. As a matter of fact, I chose Black Ships specifically because D and my 6th-grader J are both learning ancient history.
The Read-Aloud Handbook was such an encouragement to me to jump back in and reclaim some of the warm times we had as a family reading books together. I have made it a part of any baby gift I give, too. It was good to hear that older kids want to be read to. It is even better experiencing it first hand with my own!
Next up...I'm thinking about something funny like the "Great Brain" series. No cryin', no killin'. Just some smarty-pants boys. Or there's always Roald Dahl...