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bedtime reading

Dec 16 2011

Choosing the best book for a child

by Patricia D

When I worked in the Children’s Room there was one question, above all others, that we were asked this time of year.  “What is the best book for a holiday gift for my child/niece/nephew/young friend?”   We would ask about the child’s interests and age, and offer up some of our favorite titles, things that were new during the year and also things we loved, either from our childhood or from our own experiences with children.   I completely understand the worry over choosing just the best book for that special child.  I ordered books for children for a living and was  stopped in my tracks by indecision at the bookstore every time I tried to buy a gift.

It’s almost impossible to predict what a child will actually like—I hated, hated, hated Dr. Seuss as a child (still do in fact) but Junior can’t get enough of Fox in Socks.  Thank the great Great Panjandrum there are other adults in her life who are thrilled to read him to her.   I have yet to be able to interest her in The Cricket in Times Square (charming and age appropriate) but she couldn’t wait each night for the next chapter in Calico Captive, something I thought was way too much for her but that she picked off the shelf herself.

There’s a secret to choosing the best book for a child.  Wanna hear it?  Lean in, and pay close attention because I’m only going to say this once:  The best book for a child is the one you are reading together.

That’s it, that’s the secret.  Books and children work best, even when the child is older, when you are sharing them.  If they hate it, if they love it—doesn’t matter.   Shared reading isn’t really about phonemic awareness, sequencing and decoding of letters.  Those things are part of it, sure, but it’s really about you and the child.  It’s about your undivided attention as you snuggle in the oversized easy chair or under the covers.  It’s about crying together when Charlotte or Ann & Dan dies, and cheering in one voice when Taran is finally revealed to be the High King.  It’s about taking the time to show your child that reading matters and that it matters to you.

I read aloud to a blind classmate during my college years.  I didn’t really want to read The Last Temptation of Christ or Mr. Sammler’s Planet and I well and truly did not want to read Anna Karenina but we read them together and the memories of those times are still sweet.   I think the same will be true for that special child in your life.  Is it tough to work reading into the nighttime routine?  Absolutely—there’s dinner to manage and that always takes longer than I think it will (seriously?  75 minutes to eat a hotdog and some slaw?) and then there’s the goofy homework assignments and the bedtime fight over how well the teeth got brushed, among other things. So yeah, it is tough to work in some print time.  I promise you though, this gift will keep on giving long after that amazing pop-up book by Robert Sabuda that I’m going to recommend has fallen to bits.

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Nov 4 2011

Dreaming of Reading

by Patricia D

When I was a kid long car trips looked like this: whoever was the baby at the time was in the front seat between our parents, the rest of us were crammed into the back, playing the classic “I’m not touching you” game.  Once everyone was asleep, I would lean forward, hanging over the bench seat in front of me to talk to my dad.  He drove like a man on a mission, chain smoking his way down the two lane roads to our destination, searching for a new AM station as necessary.  My Mom?  Always, always, sound asleep on the other side of the front seat, arm around the baby, head cushioned from the window by a pillow, a book open in her lap.  If you’re trying to date this little story let me spell out the clues for you: no interstate or FM radio, a little second hand smoke wasn’t going to hurt anyone and the unrestrained baby in the front seat was in the safest spot in the car.  If you’ve picked any point in the sixties you win.

My siblings and I supposed, in our gender specific world, that daddies drove cars and mommies slept in them.  I realized, as a grown up, that my mother didn’t necessarily intend to sleep in the car (note the presence of an open book in her lap) but as soon as she got a break from looking after a big family she simply passed out, her much anticipated reading time blotted out by fatigue.  I realized this because I’m a mommy who frequently wakes up face first in a book.

As I read to Junior at 7:00 p.m. I rock.  We did Because of Winn-Dixie because of we watched the movie, so now we’re working our way through the Tale of Desperaux.  My reading is expressive while my English major brain marvels at the structure and the symbolism DiCammillo has packed into a pretty good story.  We stop and talk about the story, and best of all, Junior is so taken with this book that she hides it under her pillow so I can’t ” accidentally” return it before we finish (I’m not proud of this but I just couldn’t read another Junie B. Jones.)

7:00 p.m. is great, but 10:00 p.m., now that’s a different story entirely.  I have learned that I need something light and easy because I’m so tired I just can’t focus for long.  The Hemingses of Monticello have done me in, I gave up on Minders of Make-believe and please don’t ask me about Cleopatra: A Life—I’m betting she dies but I still don’t really know how.  Christopher Hitchens’ new collection is nice because it’s lots of short essays, but mostly I fall back on old favorites—the King of Attolia and its companion books, the Grand Sophy, anything by Christopher Moore—and cookbooks.  The good folks at America’s Test Kitchen provide wonderful bedtime reading because each recipe comes with a little story.  Mastering the Art of French Cooking reads better than you’d think and of course my crush Jacques Pepin always has something new to read.  Books about cooking are okay too.  I’ve just  finished Kathleen Flinn’s The Sharper your Knife the Less you Cry.  It was perfect—short chapters, little life lessons and it left me dreaming of butter, pastry and crispy duck skin.