Saturday, November 29, 2008

Weekend Wind-down : : Reading to Children

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.


  1. Anne, I'm also into revisions but I love your post.

    My girls read on their own lots, but we still read together nearly every night. We've visited Narnia, Avonlea, and Hogwarts, and right now we're about to attend Meg's wedding in Little Women.

    The books and the kids get older, but the enjoyment only gets greater. I'm really going to miss it in a few years...I hope I have 2 or 3 left.

  2. Donna, I'm sure you'll have time left. And you can always turn up with a book saying, "Listen to this!" and just start reading. It works. And the memories are very much worth it. Yep, we read Narnia too, though my daughter read Avonlea alonge (her brothers were less enthralled. Girls seem to have a broader landscape for what they enjoy reading -- or hearing.)

  3. Hi Anne, reading is something you have to beg kids to do sometimes. I was always so shy and my sister and parents were out going, if it were not for books l would have felt very lonely. lts great the range of stories they carry for different ages. Btw will you be writing for the desire line again? l loved those cowboy stories.

  4. Hi Avi,
    I guess I felt that reading to them meant that I showed them I valued the time spent reading, that I thought it was worthwhile, and I felt it had something to give them. They all, to varying degrees, seem to agree with me. Certainly they are all readers, though what they read is very different.

    I agree that books can give a real outlet for a child who would rather not be in the center of things all the time. It allows them a connection without getting 'drained' as extroverting all the time tends to do for introverts.

    I would love to write more cowboys for Desire (or even for Presents). It depends on what they want. Recently it's been fewer, as one of my editors once put it, "died-with-his-boots-on cowboys." There are not a lot of wealthy cowboys around and the emphasis right now seems to be on heroes who own multi-national corporations on the side. But things change. You never know. But, Avi, I do love the cowboys, too!

  5. I loved reading the Pyrdain Chronicles with my son. It took me awhile to interest him in Harry Potter (the fourth book was out) but once he started he read all the way to the current one and then complained that he'd have to wain for the next.

  6. Arkie, I read The Prydain Chronicles with my youngest son long after the others had moved on. He took a couple of chapters to get hooked, but then we had to read it every single night without fail. And pretty soon he just took the books off and read them faster himself.

  7. I'm a huge, huge fan of Dr Seuss because as well as being funny and entertaining and beautifully drawn every book can start a discussion.

    I love The Sneetches which is all about prejudice and how totally ridiculous it is and The Lorax about how important the environment is but my favourite has to be Oh the Places You'll Go. It's such a wonderfully empowering book - for the parent as well as the child. 'Kid you'll move mountains! 99 and three quarters percent guaranteed!'

    I read Seuss myself, then read it to my boys and now I'm busy indoctrinating my little nieces and nephews. And if nothing else, it always makes them laugh - 99 and three quarters percent guaranteed.

    A wonderful post Anne.

    Heidi x

  8. When my girls were younger we loved 'We're all going on a bear hunt' and the 'Large family books' by Jill Murphy. As they got older they liked Belle Mooney's Kitty books with titles like 'It's not fair', now they love Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Cassidy

  9. When my kids were little the one thing that would calm them down was a book and it was our way to end each day. My children are in high school and college but I now have a little nephew to read to and my daughter and I are planning to go shopping for some books for him so I will definitely check out your blog. He needs board books, however since he can be a bit rough on his books.

  10. Heidi, yes, I should have included at least one Dr Seuss. The question was, "Which?" Of the longer ones, I'm partial to Horton Hatches An Egg and for sheer read-aloud tongue-twisting Fox in Socks. There are so many brillant ones and, at this time of year, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is very apropos.

    Nell, thank you for the suggestions. I'm not familiar with the Jill Murphy books, but will definitely check them out. I can see I have lots of reading to do. Thank you!

    Maureen, we ended every day with a book, too. Actually, usually with several. And I remember nursing my third child with the older two on either side and reading and reading and reading because it kept them focused (and not into mischief) when I had to be doing something else. We got in a lot of quality reading time in those days! I got some board books for my littlest granddaughter on her birthday. The last one was Owen and Mzee -- the true story of the baby hippo and the ancient giant tortoise whom he bonded with. There is an older child's picture book about them as well, but for littles the board book is a good introduction with super pictures.

  11. I will put in a plea for nursery rhymes -- Mother Goose.
    I used to read Richard Scary.

    All the Betsy Tacy books bring back memories as do the Little House books. The Borrowers fuel my imagination as a little girl.
    Dick King Smith with Babe, Find the White Horse or his Sophie books are good for a younger age.
    KayThompson's Eloise.
    Make Way for Ducklings.
    And if you have not discovered the magic that is Kim Lewis with her The Shepard Boy or Emma's Lamb, do. My youngest used to demand My friend Harry at bedtime.
    I learnt a lot from reading Ballet Shoes out loud to my lot.
    I used to read and read and read. Did I mention that my dh read the entire LOTR three times out loud to each of the children when they were about 7/8?

  12. Oh gosh, yes, Michelle. I remember Betsy and Tacy. And the Noel Streatfeild books, especially Ballet Shoes, were staples of my childhood. I think my daughter read them (she read everything), but I didn't read those aloud to her. I will check out Kim Lewis and also My friend Harry. And blessings on your husband for his three-time reading of Lord of the Rings. But I'll be he enjoyed every minute of it, too.

  13. Oh, yes, Make Way for Ducklings went through several books here. And the other Robert McCluskey books as well. I just bought Blueberries for Sal for one of my daughters-in-law whose favorite book it was when she was a child.

  14. Fantastic post Anne - I'm not even going to try to add to the lists you and the others have made because there are just too many... we're in the habit now of reading picture books etc to our toddler twins - the 'big kids (they're 4 and 6) listen in or read their own. At bedtime there's a few more for the twins and then we read a chapter or two from a 'classic' to the big kids. There's such a vast body of fabulous kid's literature out there that I want them to have a grounding in and there's so much to talk about with them. Currently we're on Kipling's Just So stories. Roald Dahl is up next. Its amazing how many books you can get thru on a chapter a night! Sometimes my eldest and I (or Dad) take turns reading pages from the chapter book. More than anything I want them to love reading - you're never alone if you have a good book and there's so much comfort to be found in them. I think the best way of fostering a child's love for reading is to have that special time cuddled up on a sofa or a big bed and reading to each other. Best part of the day I reckon.

  15. Best part of the day, indeed, Natalie. It sounds as if yours are going to get a lot of exposure to great books. Hope you find some listed here that you aren't familiar with that you will check out. I have learned of ones I didn't know.

  16. I know exactly what you mean ab out reading to children. My only problem was that my children preferred to read their own once I enrolled them with our local library. They loved the usual Enid Blyton and Beatrice Potter when they were little and moved on to Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings etc. as they got older. Plus they have all loved Terry Pratchett's Disc world and factual books once they were in their teens.

  17. Hi Ilona, You certainly can't go wrong with Terry Pratchett. But it's a shame that you haven't got to read aloud to them once they began to read because you get deprived of the shared pleasure. Ah, well. At least they're reading. And maybe you can borrow a neighbor child and share some of the magic of books.

  18. Terrific posts and comments...many others mentioned that I didn't that we've made our way through.

    i love the time we spend together, I love that I get to let out my drama queen with expressive reading, and I love that it gives me a chance to read really good YA books that I otherwise might not. Believe it or not this is my first go with Little Women, and I love it. Her voice is revolutionary for the time period in which she wrote, I think.


  19. Donna,
    Ah, yes, the inner drama queen! I have one of those, too. When my kids were small, I couldn't leave them unattended in the children's room at the library and go upstairs to the adult section, so I used to get all the good 'older kid' fiction that I could find. Fortunately I made friends with the librarian who was happy to point good books out to me, and I found a number of authors I continued to read long after my kids had 'graduated' to other stuff. I also ended up writing my thesis (for an MA in theology no less) on children's lit and spiritual growth. It is probably the only one they have in their archives tackling that topic even today!

  20. We try to buy the grandchildren books whenever possible so they develop a habit of reading. One of the daughters-in-law is a school teacher so possibly they have a great chance at loving reading.

  21. Hi Robyn,
    I buy grandkids books all the time, too. In fact I have to convince myself that they need something other than books occasionally! I hope you get a chance to read to them now and then, too, or do they live too far away? I'm hoping that using Skype I can read stories to my granddaughter who lives 1000 miles from me. We'll see!

  22. Wonderful post Anne, as a teacher, I can't encourage parents enough to read to their children. The only way to improve reading skills is to read and you can only be sure they are reading when they read aloud! So take a few minutes everyday to invest in your childs future. It will pay off big time in improved grades.

    Scarlet Pumpernickel

  23. Scarlet, Thanks for your comment. I always loved being read to at school, too. And my next door neighbor who was a sixth grade teacher used to read aloud every day to her classes after lunch. She read a lot of the Patricia Beatty books -- historical fiction -- to them. They loved it. My kids were always delighted if they got her for a teacher.

    You're right, too, about getting kids to read to you. It not only pays off in better grades, it gives them confidence in everything they do, I think, because they feel competent about their reading.

  24. ArkieRN,
    Gunnar, my flatcoat retriever, (with the help of his apprentice contest winner choosers, Mitch and Micah) has chosen you as the winner of my new book, Antonides' Forbidden Wife!

    If you will go to my website at and click on the "contact Anne" link, you can send me your snail mail address and Gunnar and I will send you a copy of the book! Hope you enjoy it.

    And thank you to everyone else who commented here and on my blog where there were other books mentioned. I really have enjoyed our discussion and have written down several authors to check out. I hope you've got some good ideas for books to read to the children in your life as well. Happy holidays!


  25. Sorry I'm chiming in late, Anne (deadline - though I do have your new one in my TBR pile!).

    Have you come across the "Hairy McLairy" series by Lynley Dodd? Excellent for reading aloud (and so are her ones about Slinky Malinki, the cat). Mine adored those as young children. And "Six Dinner Sid". And Mick Inkpen's "Kipper" series. And "The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig", which is an excellent twist on the old traditional tale. My littlest enjoys reading it to me, even now she's terribly grown up (eight), and I love the way she does all the different voices.

  26. Kate, good to see you here. And thank you for all the titles I'm not familiar with. I'll definitely be checking them out.

    Six Dinner Sid sounds rather like homage to a certain cat of my acquaintance!

    How great that your daughter does all the voices. A budding actress, perhaps?