Read Aloud

by Doreen Blanding

"Is this a kissing book?" is one of my kids' favorite movie quotes (from the 1987 movie "The Princess Bride").  Whenever we read a book as a family, my kids like to ask this question within the first two pages. With five boys and only one girl, our kids identify with Fred Savage's character's aversion to romance and this has become something of a family joke.  We have read the book by William Goldman upon which the movie is based as a family and we love it, but it is only one of the hundreds if not thousands of books we have read together as a family.

When I was a little girl, my mom took the time to read books to me. I remember her breath in my hair as she read Dr. Suess, Robert McCloskey, and Lucy M. Montgomery.  I remember getting up early just so our family could read the scriptures together.  I remember lining up my dolls and reading to them. I remember reading aloud to the children who I was babysitting. I remember dreaming how wonderful it would be to read to my own children. These are wonderful childhood memories for me.

One of the classes I took back in college was a class on children's literature. I wish I could remember the name of the class but I guess what really matters is what I learned in that class.  I learned that reading aloud to children really does make a difference, it isn't just a good thing to do. Our text book was Jim Trelease's "The Read-Aloud Handbook." I devoured that book because I wanted to be a super teacher and (eventually) a great mom.  I never did get my teaching certificate or graduate from college but I do believe that I became a great mom--at least so far as reading to my kids is concerned.  I don't think there are many days that have gone by that my husband or I haven't read to our children. 

We have been reading to our children now for 19 years. The first book that I read to my oldest son was my favorite childhood book "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak. That was just the beginning.  We have read every type of book from simple pictures books to the complicated plays of William Shakespeare.  We have gone on some great adventures, been exposed to different kinds of literature, received a wonderful education and along the way had fun together creating those childhood memories which will live forever in the minds of our children.  My five boys have even sat through some "kissing books" and my daughter has sat through many warrior books.

Unit studies is the method of homeschooling that our family has chosen. This makes picking read-aloud books very fun. We try to pick books that go with the topic we are studying.  We read "From the Earth to the Moon" by Jules Vern when we studied Astronomy.  It was fun to discuss the science in the book as well as laugh at some of the mistaken ideas people had in the 1800's.  We even paused a few times to check some of Vern's calculations and see if he got them right.  I find that my kids get more excited about a subject when they spend 30 to 60 minutes each day listening to a well written and well constructed story.

A good story can take you places that you couldn’t otherwise go. We have gone on treasure hunts with Robert Louis Stevenson in "Treasure Island".  We have gone to war in "My Brother Sam is Dead" by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier and fought in the Seven Year's War in "With Wolfe in Canada" by G A Henty.  We have walked the roads of Rome with Elizabeth George Speare in "The Bronze Bow" and gone to the holy lands with the crusaders in" Winning His Spurs" by G A Henty. There isn't a better way to escape than with mom or dad reading a great book.

Along with the adventure, comes exposure to authors, styles and genres that my children may never acquire on their own.  I'm positive that my sons would not have picked up "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen by themselves.  Thanks to me, they've heard the language of that wonderful time period as well as been exposed to foreign and long forgotten customs.  Reading "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain brought up close and personal the language of the American South in the 1800s.  Mark Twain was a wonderful story teller and his use of raw language has exposed my children to something they would never have experienced otherwise.

My boys already loved science fiction but reading Jules Vern's take on science fiction back in the 1800's was an eye opener to them.  They may laugh at his ideas about what life is like under the sea in "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" but they get an idea of why people in the late 1800's might have been afraid of the ocean, particularly as sea travel was a prevalent way of travel.  They have also noticed how some of his ideas pop up in popular TV shows and movies, just in a different setting.

If there ever was an author that screams to be read aloud it would be William Shakespeare.  His plays are very difficult to follow unless they are read aloud. It was great to sit around the family room with my children reading "The Taming of the Shrew" with each of us taking a part or two.  It was much easier to follow when each child voiced a character.  It also allowed each of my children the chance to see the creativity and genius of Shakespeare as they read his words as well as spoke them aloud. 

Along with adventure and exposure comes the education that naturally just spills out of the pages and seeps into the minds of those listening (and reading).  Reading Shakespeare's treatment of certain subjects brings conversations on history, justice and morality.  One can't help but increase ones vocabulary when reading Shakespeare.  Even Dr. Suess lets children experiment with words, syllables and rhyming.  A good reader will stop when a certain form or function presents itself as a teaching moment.  Moral lessons and human behavior often present themselves for discussion in a very non-threatening way while reading aloud, sometimes even after the cover of the book has been shut. 

We have even taught our own family's history by reading aloud.  In Gerald Lund's series "The Work and the Glory" he mentions a group of men who would accompany Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley. One of those men was my children's great-great-great-great grandfather.  We paused our reading to get his book out and read, from his own journal, his thoughts on the journey that Elder Lund so wonderfully brings alive in his novel.  My children had heard me tell the story before, but when combined with the emotions they had encountered over the nine book series, there was more passion and emotion in my reading from Grandpa Holladay's book.  The education gained from reading aloud good books is valuable and to do it as a family is a bonus.

Going on adventures, being exposed to new stuff and learning isn't the only reason we read aloud at our house.  The number one reason we read aloud at our house is because it is fun and we do it together.  Just as I have fond memories of when I was a child sitting on my mother's lap, I want my children to look back on their childhood with fond memories.  I don't recall all of the books that my mom read to me but I do remember her reading to me.  As Elder Bednar said,

 "Each family prayer, each episode of family scriptures study, and each family home evening is a brushstroke on the canvas of our souls. No one event may appear to be very impressive or memorable. But just as the yellow and gold and brown strokes of paint complement each other and produce an impressive masterpiece, so our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results. … Consistency is a key principle as we lay the foundation of a great work in our individual lives and as we become more diligent and concerned in our own homes" (Ensign, Nov 2009).

Our family not only reads the scriptures together daily (perhaps the best reading aloud a family could do), we also read great literature together.  We have created many memories, shared great experiences and have always had fun.  I don't mind hearing "Is this a kissing book?" when I start a book because we also like to quote another part of "The Princess Bride" when, upon opening his present, the grandson asks, "A book?"

Grandpa: "That's right. When I was your age, television was called books." 
Grandson: "Has it got any sports in it?"
Grandpa: "Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles."
Grandson: "Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try to stay awake."
Grandpa: "Oh, well thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming."

My children have stayed awake. They have even enjoyed the kissing books.

You can leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions here on my feedback page. Thanks!

- Doreen