Anne McAllister takes time out from revisions to ponder the hammock she was lying in last week and offering one way to get through the month of December with your sanity intact.
As I have revisions due this coming week, winding down is not in the cards for me right now.
I also don't have at hand right now one of the things necessary for what I'm about to suggest. What you need is a book or two -- or a hundred -- and a child.
At the moment, I'm fresh out of children.
I won't be for long as some of them will be coming for the holidays with their parents. And while they are here, I will read with them. And I can tell you right now that that's one of the parts of the holidays I'm really looking forward to.
I like the other stuff, too -- the baking cookies with kids part and the wrapping presents with kids part and the taking dogs for walks with kids part. Once they get old enough not to stab themselves with needles, I actually like the stringing popcorn and cranberries with kids part, too.
But one of the things I really like is reading with them.
In weeks that are often hectic and harried, sitting down with a kid or two or three and a book (or two or three) creates a small quiet haven in the hassle of holiday preparations.
It makes both reader and the children being read to stop and take deep breath. It gets them out of the present and into a time beyond.
Sitting down in a chair together and opening a book, then reading it aloud can refresh a tired child. It can soothe a cranky one. And it can let everyone regain their equilibrium before they embark on more of the events of the season.
Lest you think I only mean reading to pre-schoolers and toddlers, I don't. I read to my kids until they were in junior high. We shared wonderful stories. We laughed together. Sometimes we got lumps in our throats and cried together.
By reading aloud I got them to read things they might never have had the patience to begin themselves. But once in, they were hooked. And I was hooked all over again.
You don't have a kid? Borrow one. At this time of year you'll find that parents everywhere are only too happy to lend their child for a hour or so. They could also read to their children (and should). But maybe they do. And whether they do or not, you can bet they'd appreciate an hour to go shopping or go for a long walk or catch up on the thousand things they have on their to-do lists that would be more easily done without juvenile help.
What to read? Well, chances are you have your own favorites from your own youth that you'll want to share. But in case you don't, I'll toss out a few tried and true books from our house.
Where the Wild Things Are is, of course, a classic, one of Maurice Sendak's best. But if you haven't also read his cautionary tale, Pierre, you should. It's especially good to read to children (and adults) who are out of sorts. They'll be giggling by the end.
If we're talking about reading about life's little ups and downs, track down a copy of Russell Hoban's The Sorely Trying Day. We've all had them. Alexander did, you may recall, in Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. Everyone over the age of one has had a day like that. The little ones just might not be able to articulate it quite yet.
We read the Richard Scarry books (Harry Hyena is still a part of family lore at our house. When someone is absolutely certain about something that turns out not to be so at all -- Harry thought he could fly, for example -- we invariably remind that someone, "he is just like Harry Hyena -- WRONG." We read the Frances books (Russell Hoban, again). The picky eaters at our house loved Bread and Jam for Frances. The ones who thought alligators lived under their beds giggled their way through countless readings of Bedtime for Frances.
There is, of course, A. A. Milne and the Winnie the Pooh books and the poems. They are lyrical and lilting and so much fun to read aloud. There is a part of me that will deny we named a son after "James James Morrison Morrison." But we still call him that sometimes.
Speaking of great language to read aloud, go for Kipling. The Just So Stories, of course. How The Rhinoceros Got His Skin is great fun -- and sometimes calesthenics for the tongue. I started reading Kim out loud last month when I had a granddaughter on hand. She's eight. She wouldn't have started it herself. But now she's hooked.
Paddington Bear. Lots of books about Paddington Bear. Not the cartoony Paddington -- the "real" one Michael Bond wrote about. A chapter a night of Paddington got my middle son through most of second grade.
The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander are also fun to read aloud. Good for middle graders and above, they, too, will give your tongue a workout (nothing like Welsh names for that). My sixth grader loved them.
And did I mention Harry Potter? Probably not. No need. Harry singlehandedly got a generation of kids reading books.
And yes, most of them read Harry on their own. But reading the stories aloud can be a great way of creating a bond.
All reading together provides a bond between the reader and listeners. It gives them a shared language, shared memories, vicarious shared experiences.
So this month, if you have kids, take the time to read with them -- find old favorites or brand-new books that you're eager to share. If you don't have kids, find some and read to them. Schools in my town are happy to have volunteers come read. And as I said, friends and family are often happy to provide a child for a bit of one-on-one reading aloud.
It's a good way to communicate and share a love of reading, a love of story. And it's a wonderful respite from the real world. Escape fiction isn't just for adults, you know.
What are some of your favorite childhood books or books your kids like? I'm always looking for recommendations. Never too early to start a TBR pile!
Anne has to stop here because she could go on forever about great kids books, but she has revisions to write. Still, she has lots more books she'd be happy to recommend and will be doing so this weekend on her blog. Stop by and check them out on Saturday.
Leave a comment there or here and you'll be in the drawing for a copy of her brand-new book, Antonides' Forbidden Wife (November HM&B Modern UK, January Harlequin Presents).
The winner will be picked on Monday. Gunnar the flatcoat is training Micah and Mitch to pick winners, but Micah eats the treats faster than they're put on the slips of paper and Mitch eats the paper. Sigh. Clearly learning how to pick a winner is still a work in progress.