Thursday, March 17, 2011

Once Upon a Time... Or Thoughts on Reading Aloud

My kids are eight and twelve. They are both “readers” and can most definitely read books of all types by themselves. I’m lucky to have kids who think a trip to the bookstore or library is a treat on a Saturday afternoon. And when they were about four and eight – right when the oldest was really jumping into novels with both feet and the youngest was working his way through the beginning leveled readers – I found myself wondering when our evening read aloud ritual would come to an end.

I was worried that day was close at hand. You see…the evening ritual was one of my favorite parts of my day. Here’s how it went: We’d all get into our jammies. We’d all snuggle into my big bed – usually me in the middle with one kid on either side. We’d prop up with a bunch of pillows and burrow under our favorite down blankets. In the quiet of the late evening, we’d read. OK…mostly I’d read. To them. But also to me.

What is it about reading a story out loud? I think it changes the story somehow. And I think there is more to it than bringing it to life by “doing” the voices of the characters – whispering when they whisper, giving them a lisp if it feels right, or throwing yourself into the CRASHES and BANGS and THUDS that might belong in the story.

There is a magic there. In the voice. In the bed – under the covers and curled up against the pillows. In the little feet pushed up against your thigh and the tooth-pastey smell of kid’s breath right before bed. There is magic in how the story unfurls from your mouth, curling a bit around your tongue before floating into the room, to hover between you and the rest of the world like a ghost or an angel or a movable window to another space.

Perhaps the world would be a better place if grown ups made a habit of listening to a story read out loud once in a while. Turned off the blackberries, turned off the televisions and computers and cell phones. And really listened to a story out loud.

We read every Percy Jackson story like this – tucked in and following Percy through his adventures together. It was great.

And recently – I’m glad to report – I spent the last week snuggled up with my now 12 year old and my 8 year old in that same bed under those same blankets reading Leaving the Bellweathers.

Could they read Kristin Clark Venuti’s book by themselves. Sure.

Did they want to? Nope. They chose to have me read it out loud so we could share the story together.

And I’m so glad.

Do you read aloud ever? When? Do you read out loud to yourself? (I do this when I’m writing…when I want to hear how a particular sentence or patch of dialog sounds.) Or do you have a regular audience?


  1. Lovely post - I too have become addicted to the evening ritual, the unfurling of words, the toothpaste-y smells... we're reading the first of the Little House books (first time for S, third for K)...she's requested teh first Oz book next.. both K and I love Leaving the Bellweathers what a fun book to read aloud!

  2. I've read short stories to my family on long road trips for years. My kids loved it even as teenagers. I often read the newspaper to my husband on trips from Ohio to Michigan. It helps pass the time and starts some great conversations.

  3. Occasionally I have read aloud to myself; I did it recently when I was working my way through a YA novel that my friend Margie had written ( called "Inconvenient." I already felt close to the main character, Alyssa Bondar, and reading aloud helped me to feel even closer to her.

  4. We just started a new read aloud last night -- the first of the Peter and the Starcatchers books by writing team Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. First two chapters: pirates, orphans, scary sailors, mysterious magical trunks... Both kids said, "ONE more chapter, PLEASE!!" when I told them to go to bed. :)

  5. LOVE the Peter and the Starcatchers series! And, I totally understand the reading aloud piece...what memories I have from when I was a child...both of my mother reading to me, and reading myself poetry on my bed, repeating lines that filled my mouth with flowers. I do think that when authors and poets write, the words are only resting on the page...that isn't where they really live.