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A love song to the pleasures of reading aloud: Memories of sharing books with children

First Published      Last Updated Jul 10 2015 02:25 pm

A collection of memories of sharing books with children.

Looking for something more to do while the kids are still out of school? Consider this: With its long hours of heat and light, summer naturally lends itself to sharing books with one another — out loud. In fact, the remembered pleasure of reading aloud lingers long after the season has passed. A group of local children's authors, booksellers and librarians took a break recently to recount their favorite read-aloud experiences.

Gwen Holt (author) • "My mother suffered from mental illness. My childhood was rocky at best. But one of my best memories was during an upswing when she sat with me and my little sister every night and read 'The Secret Garden' to us. It left a love of nature, a love of books and much hope in my heart that I carry with me today. I read the book to my children last year, and now we plant a garden together."

Shallee McArthur (author) • "My favorite read-aloud memory is from when I was teaching English at an orphanage school in Ghana, West Africa. I brought a copy of Robert Munsch's 'Love You Forever,' and it immediately became the kids' favorite book. I must have read it to them two or three times a day, and we made up a tune to the song the mother sings. It was so powerful to see how much the love of a mother meant to them, since many of them had lost their mothers. I gave them the book the day I left, and they sang me the song from it in farewell."

Becky Hall (author, children's librarian, bookseller) • "When Mom at 91 years old was near death, I raced home to Cape Cod to be with her. I sat at her bed with my book while she slept. At one point she woke up and asked what I was reading. I said it was Elizabeth Winthrop's 'Counting on Grace.' She asked me to read it to her. When I'd completed a couple of chapters, she said, 'You read so beautifully.' I laughed to myself since that was now my job; I was a children's librarian. I still cherish that sweet moment of role reversal. She died two days later."

Sharlee Glenn (author) • "My husband didn't read a lot as a child, so he missed out on many of the childhood classics. As a result, he got to experience 'Charlotte's Web,' the Beverly Cleary books, 'Treasure Island,' 'Tuck Everlasting,' 'Where the Red Fern Grows,' etc., right along with our kids once we started our own nightly read-aloud sessions. I'll never forget the day he asked me to stop by the library on my way home from running errands to see if they had the next Boxcar Children book. For him."

Vivian Evans (bookseller) • "A few summers ago at a boys ranch in Idaho, the director read each night to the 30 boys ages 12-16 before they went to bed. They would all lie on the floor and quietly listen to 'Holes' by Louis Sachar. The day the parents came to pick up the boys, they hadn't quite finished the book. The boys insisted the parents wait until the last of the book was read before they would leave."

Sheila A. Nielson (author and children's librarian) • "After my grandfather died, my grandmother struggled with adjusting to life without her sweetheart. I was attending college at the time and decided to move in with her so I could take care of her and make sure she wasn't alone. I was working as a librarian and she noticed the many stacks of books I brought home with me each night. She asked me if I would read one to her. I chose 'Emily of New Moon' by L.M. Montgomery. Each evening I would sit beside my grandmother's old rocking chair and read a couple chapters aloud to her. We laughed together, cried together and grew as close as two best friends. It was like the generations between our ages melted away whenever we entered Emily's world. Many years later, during the last couple months of my grandmother's life, she mentioned 'Emily of New Moon' to me more than once — confessing how much it meant to her that I'd taken the time to share that story. The memories of that time have become even more precious to me now that she is gone."

Anne Holman (bookseller) • "When my daughter was about 3, she loved 'Go Dog Go' and when we got to the Ferris wheel page, she would shout, 'Go around again!' at the top of her lungs, and it never got old. She thought it was the funniest thing EVER."

Christine Graham (author) • "Our family of seven were living — camping really — in a two-bedroom married-student apartment. Dad was finishing his dissertation, so we rarely saw him. But almost every night he read a chapter with us from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. All of the hours I enjoyed reading to my children come out of that warm time with those wonderful books."

Sara B. Larson (author) • "My mom gave us a beautiful copy of 'Goodnight Moon' when my oldest son was born, and when he was a toddler, he asked for it every night. We read it so many times, he had it memorized by the time he was 2 and would read it to me! That tradition of reading out loud has continued, and he still loves to have me read to him (he's 10 now). We've graduated to Harry Potter and other fantastic books, which I love because it gives me the chance to experience them again through his eyes."

Margaret Neville (bookseller) • "Last summer I kept hearing my husband and college-aged son laughing, and when I finally stuck my head into the bedroom and asked them what was so funny, they said they were REREADING 'Bunnicula'!"

Ilima Todd (author) • "We love read-aloud time in our home and share many fond memories of the stories we enjoy together as a family. My favorite memory, though, has to be the time my kids caught me hiding in my closet trying to read ahead in Jessica Day George's 'Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow' because I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. 'Mom! You're sooooooo busted!' "

Dene Low, aka Laura Card (author) • "Every night before we go to sleep, my husband reads aloud to me from a book. It is a tender and sweet thing for him to do, and we get through lots and lots of books that we discuss."

Alison Randall (author) • "When some of the later Harry Potter books came out, my husband, children and I gathered together on our family-room floor and read the first chapter out loud. It was a competition to see who got the book after that, but at least we all started together!"

Lehua Parker (author) • "When I was pregnant with my first child and knowing I was going to raise my family in Utah, I went home to Hawaii and filled a suitcase with children's picture books about Hawaii, including 'A Is for Aloha' and 'Goodnight Gecko.' Reading these books to my kids helped keep my island home part of our everyday life."

Janette Rallison (author) • "My fifth-grade teacher read books aloud to us for the last 20-30 minutes of class. It was my favorite part of the day. I went from not liking books to wanting to be an author. The one that I loved the best was 'The Phantom Tollbooth.' Now all of these years later when my publisher wanted me to write a middle-grade, I wrote a book ('The Wrong Side of Magic,' due out in 2016) which in many ways is a tribute to 'The Phantom Tollbooth.' "

Kate Coombs (author) • "My parents used to read two or three picture books to my brother and sister and me every night before we went to sleep. Even then I was a bookworm. My dad, a sociology professor who conducted a lot of research, once decided to do a little experiment: He would see how many picture books he could read to me before I got tired of it. I think I was 3 or 4 at the time. The result was that his voice gave out before I did."

Mette Harrison (author) • "I read 'Life as We Knew It' by Susan Beth Pfeffer out loud to my kids and it was a book they all remember, though one of my kids found herself going downstairs to steal our stash of chocolate chips — a scene from the book — and another kid went down into our basement and counted our cans of wheat and rice to reassure himself we'd survive the apocalypse. I made it more intense by re-enacting the book every year for a month three or four times. I'd announce it was 'LAWK!' month and we'd go a month just living on our food storage and what we had in the house. Unfortunately, one year, my oldest son decided that was the month his feet were going to grow four sizes. I had to give in to buy him new shoes. Because it turns out it wasn't actually the apocalypse."



10 tips for reading with children

Author and former elementary-school librarian Becky Hall shares these tips for getting the most out of the experience of reading to children.

Don’t be afraid to snuggle. Reading aloud is about the story, of course, but “a bigger part is love.”

If you’re reading a picture book, be sure the pictures are visible the entire time you read. Hall notes that a picture book is generally 50 percent text and 50 percent illustration.

Speaking of illustrations, be sure to give children time to study the pictures. “Ask them to tell you what they see. This is better on a second read because the first time it’s all about the story.”

Reread stories. While this can occasionally become tedious for adults, rereading “gives kids the chance to memorize and then associate letters and words with what they know.”

Encourage a child to tell you the story you’ve read together.

Don’t forget the fun part! Make the experience something everyone looks forward to.

Pick good literature.

Read, read, read. Then read some more.

Go to the library and indulge in a book-“buying” binge.

Make books a regular part of your family life.