Reading Aloud with My Sons

One of my sons recently asked me what I remember about reading to him and his little brother. So many memories! First, I should introduce my sons. They are now 29 and 35 years old, living hundreds of miles from home. My husband and I are delighted that they call/text frequently and visit when they can.

We read to our sons from the get-go. Their grandmother (hereinafter referred to as Granny) declared “Your child’s intellectual development is more important than diapers” and handed me a copy of Pat the Bunny. Almost no words, just textures. We read it to a frazzle. Granny could recite long selections of poetry and kept a statue of Shakespeare on her coffee table. Just being around her for a few days would double a young child’s vocabulary.

Like many families, we went through a LONG period of reading Goodnight Moon every night, sometimes twice. It’s so hypnotic! I wonder if anyone painted their child’s room dark green to match those pictures?

After Goodnight Moon came Dr. Seuss. I always had a fondness for To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, because I can remember when I first heard it in Grade One, in 1956! We still refer to certain weather conditions as “oobleck”.

The Chinaberry catalog had a big influence on our reading. I loved it! I just learned that Chinaberry is now defunct, having operated from 1982 to 2019. Sad, but not surprising. Books are so much more readily accessible now, and so are web sites that help a parent to choose.

Finn Family Moomintroll and the Brambly Hedge series were two favorites found through Chinaberry. The Moomintroll books consisted of whimsical stories and even more whimsical, very simple, black and white line drawings. Moomins are funny creatures, and their world is populated by other odd beings, like the Hattifatners, and some decidedly eccentric humans. All weird and strangely lovable… The Brambly Hedge books were almost the opposite, with bright, detailed watercolor illustrations of the imagined, anthropomorphized lives of bunnies and mice. Charming!

I never had much use for Mother Goose, but, goodness, how I loved The Space Child’s Mother Goose, written by Frederick Winsor and illustrated by Marian Parry! Should I regret that my older son went off to kindergarten chanting

 “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep, and radar has failed to find them. They’ll all, face to face, meet in parallel space, preceding their leaders behind them”?

What about

“Flappity, floppity flip! The mouse in the Mobius strip! The strip revolved, the mouse dissolved, in a chronodimensional skip!”

Some kids just can’t resist a word like “chronodimensional”. My sons had amazing diction. There was no “baby talk” in our house.

Fast forward twenty plus years…my niece earned a degree in physics and astronomy from the University of North Carolina. What else to send, for a graduation gift, but a copy of The Space Child’s Mother Goose? That book will never get old.

Granny introduced us to a wonderful alternative to Mother Goose, namely The Peter Patter Book of Nursery Rhymes by Leroy Jackson and Blanche Fisher Wright (illustrator). Possibly this dates to 1918? All four of us can still recite “Jelly Jake and Butter Bill”, a long cautionary tale about gluttony. Warning – some political incorrectness turns up. Something about a Welshman and a thief…

Granny loved Jimmie Owl, the benevolent creature on the front of The Peter Patter Book (see above). At family reunions, she invited every child under age 8 to a Jimmie Owl Party, during which she read from the book and somehow received a phone call from Jimmie, telling where he had hidden candy for the kids.

As proof of my total insanity, let it be known that I read the The Lord of the Rings trilogy to my older son when he was 9 or 10. Not The Hobbit, which was read by Dad to each boy at about age 5. (Of course, they loved it!) No, the whole damned Ring trilogy. Whatever possessed me?! It took more than six months, and may have been our last big read together. After a while, Tolkien becomes monotonous – the language lacks variation and begins to plod. The story, of course, is simply wonderful.

My other totally off the wall reading project was First Light – The Search for the Edge of the Universe by Richard Preston. I think First Light was loaned to me by a physicist friend (Hal Taylor – RIP) and later I got a copy of the revised version and decided to read it to the boys. It’s a wonderful history of the Mount Palomar telescope, and full of thrilling (to me) science. Younger son generally fell asleep, but older son hung in there. One night, as I read about distance and time and the wonders of physics, I heard a plaintive voice… “if that’s the way things are, why do I have to go to school in the morning?” Does anyone know an answer to that? Did I make a mistake in sending my sons to school?

The same little voice once interjected itself as we were listening to Homer’s Illiad on tape (the wonderful recording by Derek Jacoby) in the car. Hector was rampaging around the walls of Troy, slashing with sword and disemboweling enemies, blood everywhere. “Are you sure I should be listening to this?”, asked my son. Well, at least we knew he was paying attention!

Some of our best reading took place in the car, using Books on Tape. Really, nothing beats Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories to counteract superhighway boredom, especially The Hound of the Baskervilles. We listened to Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi and several works of Rudyard Kipling, including Kim. 

By the time JK Rowling started to publish the Harry Potter books, my boys were reading on their own. We pre-ordered the books and sometimes squabbled over who got to read first. Later we discovered Philip Pullman‘s Dark Materials and Book of Dust. Still waiting for more!

Reading with my sons provided me with so much fun! I wish the same for every family I know.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s