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