Handcuffed to Characters

I used to think that if I were unencumbered by family ties (don’t mistake me: I love the cumbers), I would go to the pediatric ward of a large hospital and hold babies that needed to be held.  I pictured myself in a rocking chair, hair in a bun, humming and rocking, humming and rocking. I would sing hymns, I’d make up songs about their names, I’d tell these little ones about the God who made them, and gaze into the deep pools of their eyes. Of course, the babies would never scream; gurgling and cooing would be the only sounds they would make.  In my dreams.

Another dream is shoving its way to the head of the line. 

That dream is having reluctant readers over to my house and reading great books aloud together.

After some modern, easy-to-read books, I assigned The Diary of Anne Frank to my reluctant reader-niece.  She plowed (I so want to spell it ploughed like the English) through it because I dangled the carrot of watching The Freedom Writers in front of her.  I chose Willa Cather’s My Antonia for the next assignment.  Here was a book which combined her heritage from both sides of her family: one set of grandparents who grew up on the farm in the Midwest and the other set of grandparents who grew up in Eastern Europe and immigrated to America sixty years ago.  She even has an Aunt Yulka, the name of the younger sister in the book. Nonetheless, she could not get into it and read it with eyes which forgot the top of the page before the bottom of the page is finished. 

This morning we fixed large mugs of tea; sat down and read chapters aloud to each other, alternating paragraphs.  We stopped to discuss (or pronounce) new words, clues, foreshadowing, and cultural checkpoints.  Antonia wore cotton dresses in the winter.  “What kind of dresses would normal people in Nebraska wear in the winter?”  The Shimerda family lived in a dugout house.  “Why were wooden framed houses rare?” 

As we progressed I heard her read with more expression.  Comprehension began to drip off the ends of her words like honey that refuses to be confined to the piece of toast.  We got caught up in the story and began to anticipate events.  

Reading aloud together is not efficient; reading aloud together could never be termed convenient.  But it fits in with my stubborn insistence on slowing down at this time of year when we get sucked into hyperactivity.  We were warm, comfortable, engaged…together.  Reading together is a simple way to share the experience of being changed that comes from the powerful writing of a potent story. 

When I look back on our homeschool journey, my favorite memories are the times we shared after lunch with a book in my hand and a glass of water handy.  Those extra chapters read because none of us could bear to stop.  
The magic that took place when signs and symbols on a page were spoken into the air.  The exhilaration of being swept away, captured by a story, handcuffed to characters about whom we came to care deeply.  

Sandy’s daughter, Cassie’s essay articulates the joys of a reading life.  Reading: A Common Bond

10 thoughts on “Handcuffed to Characters

  1. Reading aloud to my kids has been my most favorite part of homeschooling. Whether it’s a novel like Eragon, or our history and science books – Story of the World, The Complete Encyclopedia of Space, etc. – we have so much fun together. And Natalie and I have taken to having a “girl” book going, too. We just finished The Mother Daughter Book Club. Until we read it, she had no interest whatsoever in reading Little Women. Now she wants to read it together and she’s getting a nice edition for Christmas. (Sssh – don’t tell.) I can’t help thinking of all the read aloud time parents miss by sending their kids to school.

  2. I live about 70 miles north of where My Antonia took place.  I used to babysit some kids who would con me into reading chapter after chapter of their bedtime book.  Long past bedtime.

  3. Read aloud time for parents who send their kids to school? I disagree. I read to my kids till I almost lost my voice, after they got home from school, almost every day, while they were growing up. Two of my daughters really don’t enjoy reading, and I would read aloud to one of them her homework, when she was in high school. The other one, I got interested in reading by introducing her to a series of books and now she is the best reader of them all. Please don’t clump all public-schooled-kids’ parents into this stereotype.  Thanks.

  4. LimboLady – I apologize. I did not mean to espouse a stereotype. I guess, I was thinking of what my sisters have told me about how much time homework and soccer and other lessons take up. Please forgive any offense.

  5. One summer a few years ago, our small town had a series of literary lectures (quite rare in our area!).  One of them was on Willa Cather and I must confess I had not read her till then.  I did read O Pioneers after that but didn’t get to My Antonia.  That will go high on my to-read list now, thanks to your recommendation.Oh, to be a fly upon the wall during your read-aloud sessions with your niece.  Bless you for sharing your love of reading with her!Sandy

  6. When teaching high school English, I always read aloud parts of whatever piece we were working through. Many teachers say they just don’t have time and assign the reading for homework, but I found that though I “didn’t have time” either in the curriculum, I did have the firm belief that something else could be sacrificed. Students would sometimes volunteer to read, also. To this day, my teenage sons and I can quote 17 Kings and 42 Elephants and other favorites that my husband and I read aloud to them when they were little. A lovely tradition — and efficiency experts — oh well.

  7. Our experience is the same.  The time spent in reading aloud is well worth it – enriching our family culture and building relationships.
    I love that my college age (and beyond) sons read on their own to catch up to what we are reading aloud when they’re not here, and ask me to read when they’re home.
    I was just thinking last night of the books that we will give for wedding presents, and first Christmas presents, the books that we treasure reading again and again as a family.
    P.S. Thanks for the prayers.  Continue to pray for Micah’s family.  We are taking advantage of the slow down cancelling our Christmas party by laying around sick on the couch!  God knows just what we need when we need it, doesn’t he?

  8. I have thought about volunteering not in the pediatric ward, but the geriatric one….like visiting seniors in a nursing home and reading aloud to them….or better yet, just listening.
    I could practice the listening skills you mentioned in a very good, earlier post.

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