I was often sick with allergies during my early childhood. In fact, when I was in second and third grade, I was sick so often that the decision was made to home-school me. I remember thinking that it was a “Christmas miracle” if I actually felt well on Christmas Day. While my health is much better today, I still seem to be susceptible to bouts of illness during the changing of the seasons. This seems true for many folks and the headlines tell us that many children and adults are sick and staying home right now.
Although I recall coloring, playing with toys, and of course, watching endless hours of television and movies, my best memories are about the stories that my mom read to me. Young children (and, I believe, older children and even adults) love to hear stories read by others. But for some unfortunate reason, in today’s culture we tend to stop reading aloud to children once they start to learn to read on their own. Perhaps it is because too many of us surrender to a frantic lifestyle that leaves too little time for this important part of family life… something that may be more beneficial than the things that the culture tries to tell us are important.
Reading aloud is a wonderful way to share time with your kids and family. It creates and cements close bonds and helps us to relate to each other. Studies have shown that reading to your child dramatically increases their vocabulary and their own reading skills, because young children can comprehend many more words than they can read, especially for beginning readers, of course. Reading quiets the mind and therefore calms the frenetic child. In today’s world, one that is filled with so much noise (both aural and visual), so many electronic devices, and the blitz of the internet, I believe that one of the biggest obstacles to reading for young people is their inability to quiet their minds, to shut off distracting externalities, to stop the commercial jingle that is looping in their head … all of which leads to mental drift and the inability to focus on the magic of the page. By reading to your child, you can help counter the often overwhelming noise of the culture and help them to develop keen listening skills and catalyze a lifelong love affair with the book.
If your child (or teen or spouse) is sick at home, stop in at OWL and take home a stack of books and start reading aloud! And better yet, if everyone is healthy, visit your OWL and take out that stack of books and start a new tradition!
Here are some of my favorite read-aloud picks, with teasers from their opening pages:
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, by Betty MacDonald (J MAC). “I expect I might as well begin by telling you all about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle so that whenever I mention her name, which I do very often in this book, you will not interrupt and ask, ‘Who is Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? What does she look like?…’ Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lives here in our town. She is very small and has a hump on her back. When children ask her about the hump, she says, ‘Oh, that’s a big hump of magic. Sometimes it turns me into a witch; other times into a dwarf or a fairy, and on special occasions it makes me a queen.'”‘
Soup, by Robert Newton Peck (J PEC). “Dear Mrs. Peck, Your son Robert made a rude remark to Miss Boland, our school nurse. Perhaps it was not intended to be as coarse as it sounded. Miss Boland thinks that you (his mother) should be informed of this. I quite agree. Signed, Miss Kelly.” I stood stock still in the kitchen while my mother read the note…
The Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald (J FIT). “Most everyone in Utah remembers 1896 as the year the territory became a state. But in Adenville, it was celebrated by all the kids in town and by Papa and Mamma as the time of The Great Brain’s reformation. I was seven years old going on eight. Tom was ten, and my other brother, Sweyn, would soon be twelve…”
A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond (J BON). “Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform. In fact, that was how he came to have such an unusual name for a bear, for Paddington was the name of the station. The Browns were there to meet their daughter Judy, who was coming home from school for the holidays…”
Ramona the Brave, by Beverly Cleary (J CLE). “Ramona Quimby, brave and fearless, was half running, half skipping to keep up with her big sister Beatrice on their way home from the park. She had never seen her sister’s cheeks so flushed with anger as they were this August afternoon…”
The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary (J CLE). “Keith, the boy in the rumpled shorts and shirt, did not know he was being watched as he entered Room 215 of the Mountain View Inn. Neither did his mother and father, who both looked hot and tired. They had come from Ohio and for five days had driven across plains and deserts and over mountains to the old hotel in the California foothills twenty-five miles from Highway 40…”
Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard Atwater (J ATW). “It was late afternoon in September. In the pleasant little city of Stillwater, Mr. Popper, the house painter, was going home from work. He was carrying his buckets, his ladders, and his boards so that he had rather a hard time moving along.”
The Adventures of Grandfather Frog, by Thornton W. Burgess (J BUR). “Billy Mink ran around the edge of the Smiling Pool and turned down by the Laughing Brook. His eyes twinkled with mischief, and he hurried as only Billy can…”
The Cricket in Time’s Square, by George Selden (J SEL). “A mouse was looking at Mario. The mouse’s name was Tucker, and he was sitting in the opening of an abandoned drain pipe in the subway station at Times Square. The drain pipe was his home…”
The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley (J FAR). “The tramp steamer Drake plowed away from the coast of India and pushed its blunt prow into the Arabian Sea, homeward bound. Slowly it made its way east toward the Gulf of Aden. Its hold was loaded with coffee, rice, tea, oil seeds and jute…”
Windcatcher, by Avi (J AVI). “1777. ‘All hands!’ came the frightened cry. ‘All hands!’ His majesty’s sailing ship Swallow heeled sharply. In Quartermaster Littlejohn’s cabin, the oil lamp swung wildly, sending shadows leaping about as if in search of safety. Littlejohn, asleep in his bunk, bolted up. A shrieking wind filled his ears…”
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (J LEV). “That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant to bestow a gift. When I cried inconsolably through my first hour of life, my tears were her inspiration… ‘My gift is obedience. Ella will always be obedient. Now stop crying child.’ I stopped…”
Little House on the Praire, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (J WIL). “A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. They drove away and left it lonely and empty in the clearing among the big trees, and they never saw that little house again. They were going to the Indian Country. Pa said there were too many people in the Big Woods now…”
Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren (J LIN). “On the outskirts of a tiny town was a neglected garden. In the garden stood an old house, and in that house lived Pippi Longstocking. She was nine years old, and she lived there all alone. She had no mother or father, which was actually quite nice, because it meant that no one could tell her that she had to go to bed just when she was having the most fun…”
For older children and teens, remember that this is an opportunity to pick anything – it need not be something that they would (yet?) read themselves. If you like Shakespeare, read it! If you enjoy poetry, go for it! Read aloud a memoir or a biography and enlighten them to new genres and subjects. Most importantly, reading aloud is the best medicine!
Ann Marie White is the Library Director at OWL and believes that if she read the first few chapters of Harry Potter to her husband that he might very well get hooked…maybe…