The final read-aloud, part deux

Last week, I published a blog post called “The Final Read-Aloud” about my experiences reading with my 10-year-old son and dreading the day that he decides he’s too old to be read to. My beautiful, talented, and apparently neglected-feeling daughter, age 22, pointed out that my experiences with her were quite different. In the interest of family peace, as well as presenting another view of the end of reading aloud, I thought I’d add an overview of my daughter’s evolution as a reader as well.

Let me start by saying that my husband makes fun of me whenever I bemoan the difficulty of parenting a rowdy, active boy — because he thinks that I expected this one to turn out to be another perfect little angel like his sister, and as it turns out, that wasn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong, I love ALL my children. But you know the children’s book I Love You The Purplest? That really sums up a parent’s life in a nutshell.

My daughter  was easy from day one. I could and did take her anywhere with me and she got along just fine, whether it was lunch with girlfriends, shopping expeditions, or museum outings. We hit the theaters and movies, did crafts, enjoyed dancing around the house, or just sitting and watching “The Little Mermaid” for the thousandth time. And, like me, my little angel was a reader from the get-go.

We read together every night before bed, sometimes piles of books, and she never got tired of it. When she started elementary school, she took to early phonics and reading exercises like a champ. By second grade, although we were still reading together every night, she discovered the joys of reading on her own. Her first chapter books were the junior versions of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitters Club series — The Babysitters’ Little Sister books. These were perfect for her — not too difficult, and centered around a 2nd-grade girl and her friends. After she got tired of that bunch, she graduated into the bigger kid stories in The Babysitters Club, and then on into the big, wide world of reading, no mom filters required.

BUT, we hung in there and continued reading together as well. Our read-alouds gave us the opportunity to explore books together, and gave her the chance to enjoy books that she probably would have found too difficult on her own at that point, such as The Golden Compass (those first chapters are so dense, they’re practically impenetrable). So why did we stop reading aloud together? I blame Harry Potter.

We read the first three Harry Potter books together. She’s of the lucky generation that grew up with Harry Potter, always about the same age as Harry as he grew up from book to book. On book 3, I pretty much lost my voice by the end, as we’d gotten to the really good parts and she simply would not allow me to stop reading. What could I do? I was as hooked as she was, so we pressed on.

In the year 2000, when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published, my lovely girl was 10 years old. We brought the book home, read a single chapter together, and boom! That’s when it happened. She decided that it was just too slow, all this reading aloud business, took the book off on her own, and plowed right through it. See ya, mom! Of course, she loved it, and I loved the book too. We just loved it separately, that’s all.

Goblet of Fire wasn’t necessarily a cold-turkey stop to reading aloud together, but it certainly marked the beginning of the end. That experience showed her, beyond a doubt, that she was a full-fledged independent reader who could handle longer, more complex stories on her own.

It didn’t feel like a sad ending of a chapter with her, probably because she has remained a devoted, avid reader all her life. Like me, she gets overly involved in her books, falls in love with the fictional worlds she visits, becomes highly invested in the characters, and likes to be surrounded by the books she loves wherever she goes. We’ve spent our whole lives together talking about books, trading books, and recommending books, and I don’t think we’ll ever stop.

Which brings me back to my son (sorry, daughter sweetie, I know this was supposed to be all about you…). I think the reason that I dread the end of our reading-aloud times is that I don’t feel confident that he’ll end up a reader. Left to his own devices so far, books are the things that he picks up when he’s forced to. I can count on one, maybe two hands, the times he’s voluntarily chosen to spend time reading. I’m afraid that once he no longer wants to be read to, he’ll fall into a book-less void.

I’m not giving up. I know I still have a job to do to get him to the point where reading is fun and exciting, and not just a chore. We’re not there yet. But we’ll get there, I hope. Onward!

2 thoughts on “The final read-aloud, part deux

  1. Don’t worry too much about your son falling into a bookless void. None of my three children read in quite the same way I do…which is probably a good thing. I say that I read like heroin addicts shoot up. My kids all swear that trying to get my attention when I was reading sounded like Stewie on The Family Guy: ” Mom Mom Momma Momma Ma Ma MA MA!” But while they read differently than I do, they are all, in their own way, readers. Like you, we read together every night…sometimes individually, sometimes as a group cuddled up in the big bed. My oldest daughter has always enjoyed reading, and now we both buy books for her little girl (I just sent the little horse-lover Marguerite Henry for her birthday). My youngest daughter liked being read to, and liked reading to me (sometimes I fell asleep while she read lol) She haunted the library with me; she never needed me for Harry Potter; we too have traded numerous book recommendations; and not too long ago (while on a break from grad school), she read me Christopher Moore’s Lamb. But the son… well, my son is my middle child, and while he always liked reading together (he loved Roald Dahl when he was growing up), he was less inclined to read on his own. He would pick up a bat and a ball. He would build ramps for his roller blades. He said he was more of a tv guy. I kept buying him books (sometimes they were more like car or plane manuals), and eventually (and I mean eventually – he is a mechanical engineer and his college curriculum didn’t leave space for leisure reading) we found that he was deeply interested in history…particularly military history. The moral of the story is that my self-proclaimed tv guy reads every day – usually history, sometimes humor – but he reads. Your son may also grow up to read differently than you and you daughter, but you’ve given him the knowledge that there are all kinds of interesting things in books, and I would bet that he will remember that. And you may still have to buy him books – my son’s last visit, he told me he was almost done with the last book I sent him……….

    • Kerry, thank you for sharing all this wonderful information about your kids and their reading paths! I love that you sent Marguerite Henry books to your granddaughter — I have such fond memories of those! My daughter and I both also loved Lamb. Christopher Moore cracks me up, every time. Hearing about your son is very heartening. Thanks for pointing out that my son may end up reading differently… that’s a really helpful insight. And he does really love Roald Dahl, so maybe he’s on the right track!

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