The day is coming, and it’s not that far off, when the moment I dread will finally arrive: The day when my youngest child turns to me at bed-time and says, “That’s okay, Mom. You don’t need to read to me any more.”
Our bed-time reading ritual has been a daily staple since he was a newborn, when I’d lie on the bed with him and watch him kick his feet in time to the rhythms of A. A. Milne’s fabulous poetry:
Whenever I walk in a London street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, “Bears,
Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!”
(A. A. Milne, “Lines and Square”, When We Were Very Young)
As he grew, our choice of books varied, but always, always, we’d grab a few books off the shelves, cuddle up, and dig in. During the toddler and preschool years, favorites included:
Board books galore, such as Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks From A To Z (try reading this to a toddler and have him/her repeat all the car names after you. Guaranteed hilarity!); any and all of the oh-so-silly Boynton books (The Going To Bed Book and Pajama Time are special favorites of ours); the Margaret Wise Brown books, of which Big Red Barn is far and away the best.
As he grew older, we moved into the world of Seuss and friends, first the shorter classics (One Fish, Two Fish and In A People House were among the most requested), then moving on to The Cat in the Hat and all of those crazy shenanigans. As he progressed through the early elementary years, my son became hooked on some of the longer, wackier Seuss works, such as The Sneetches, I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew, and a perennial favorite, Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book.
A moose is asleep. He is dreaming of moose drinks.
A goose is asleep. He is dreaming of goose drinks.
That’s well and good when a moose dreams of moose juice.
And nothing goes wrong when a goose dreams of goose juice.
But it isn’t too good when a moose and a goose
Start dreaming they’re drinking the other one’s juice.
Moose juice, not goose juice, is juice for a moose.
And goose juice, not moose juice, is juice for a goose.
So, when goose gets a mouthful of juices of mooses
And moose gets a mouthful of juices of gooses
They always fall out of their beds screaming screams
So, I’m warning you, now! Never drink in your dreams.
(Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book)
Now that he’s a an older elementary school student, practically on the verge of middle school, his tastes have changed, although his interest in bed-time reading sessions has not. Two years ago, the boy decided he wanted to know what all this Harry Potter fuss was about and asked to watch the first movie. “Aha!” I said (paraphrasing here…), “here’s my opportunity!” and I insisted that he read the book before seeing the movie. This negotiation quickly ended with the compromise that he’d listen to the book if I’d read it to him at bedtime. And so we did. I read, he listened, he became hooked, I got to re-read a favorite series all over again and see it fresh through a child’s eyes. Ten months later, we closed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with me having read OUT LOUD every book in the series. (I was quite proud of myself, really — I’m not a very dramatic reader, but I do think I managed a pretty good Snape voice).
Harry Potter set us on a course of venturing into longer books and books series. We’ve read The Mysterious Benedict Society series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, started (but didn’t enjoy) the Lemony Snicket books, read a few classics such as My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and a variety of Roald Dahl books. Our current book is Chomp by Carl Hiaasen, which the author probably did not envision as a bed-time story — full of adventure and danger in the Everglades, as well as some unique and very funny characters — but we’re fully enjoying it together.
The bottom line, for me, is that our bed-time reading ritual ensures that the kid and I have quality time together at the end of each day, that we have a shared book experience to discuss and enjoy, and equally importantly from my perspective, it gives my boy, a truly reluctant reader, a chance to experience the joy of reading. It’s a struggle to get him to pick up a book and read on his own, which he is capable of doing — he’s just usually not interested or so inclined. (“Mom, I can read. I just prefer not to.”) Our night-time reading sessions let him see the beauty and excitement of a good book and experience how great it feels to be so caught up in a story that you just have to know what happens next, that you dream about the characters, that you wake up in the morning with a theory about one of the book’s mysteries.
My son is ten. He’ll be in middle school next year. He’s growing up, I know — picks out his own clothes, checks his email, going boogie-boarding with his big brother, and mostly wants to assert his independence. I’m guessing that at some time in the coming year, he’ll decide that he’s too old for all this read-aloud business. But I’m hoping it’s a ways off yet. For now, he’s definitely enjoying it, and I plan to hang in there as long as possible to keep our reading time alive.
If you’re a parent of an older child, I’d love to know: Do you still read to your kids, even it they can read on their own? If not, when did your read-alouds stop? Share your thoughts in the comments, please!