Sep. 11th, 2015

rockinlibrarian: (librarians)
I've felt a bit of a fraud for a long while. I'm a children's librarian, you know. Part of my job description is "Encourage parents to read to their children because this will improve literacy, empathy, family dynamics, and their entire childhood!" There's a poster on the Youth Services office door of a Mafia-looking baby demanding "Read to me 20 minutes a day or I'll tell the librarians on you!" And reading aloud is one of my personal favorite things to do.

So why is it so hard to do with MY OWN KIDS?

I get jealous, reading online, other parents discussing all the chapter books they're reading as a family. Sometimes I think people DO go too far. When they're like "I'm going to read Harry Potter to my 4 year old now!" I'm like "NO. STOP. You're wasting it. Start with My Father's Dragon. Build UP for crying out loud! Sometimes age appropriateness has a point!" Besideswhich, people give up on picture books too fast. There are brilliant picture books that can really only be appreciated by school-aged kids instead of preschoolers, but everyone's in such a hurry to get to the chapter books that these get lost.

That's all true. But my kids could barely sit still for picture books, let alone chapter books. I DID start with My Father's Dragon, several years ago, when the girl was just a baby and so didn't get nearly as much out of it as her brother. We enjoyed that one. But the boy wasn't much into stories, really. He's a nonfiction reader-- give him a book about trains or Lego or Minecraft and he'll read for hours-- anything else, he's not interested. His sister enjoys stories more, but the same ones about her favorite characters over and over, and even more often she'd rather read what SHE calls "picture books," which are what I call photo albums. And that's great, too, she learns about her extended family and their history and her own past and it's every bit literacy-development.

But a CHAPTER BOOK? When there wasn't a picture on every page? How could they pay attention to that? They jumped around and talked through it so I couldn't read, and we'd try to pick up again a few nights later (a consistent reading schedule is hard, too, when I work until their bedtime several evenings a week) and neither could remember a thing that had happened before then.

When I said "hyperactive" in the title of this post, it wasn't hyperbole. They literally both have ADHD. They literally both CANNOT focus on one thing without interrupting with an unrelated thought, they both CANNOT sit still unless for some reason they're using my Nook and suddenly they're psychically shackled into place for hours without outside intervention. Maybe I was crazy to even THINK they could sit and listen to a long-form story.

So they're 8 1/2 and 6 1/2 now, and in the course of their lives we have completed only four short chapter books together: My Father's Dragon as previously mentioned, and Beverly Cleary's Mouse and the Motorcycle books. The last three I managed by reading during their bath, but since then they've been taking separate showers instead. And we've started and stopped several other Cleary books, and Lois Lowry's All About Sam because obviously, and my Internet friend Kate Coombs' very fun Runaway Princess books, and a lot of Disney fairy easy chapter books my daughter was REALLY EXCITED to check out of the library, but a few chapters in and we'd get distracted and not work our way back until the books were overdue or we'd entirely forgotten what happened and had to start again.

I was FAILING at this family read-aloud thing. How would I ever introduce them to my favorite childhood classics the way my mom had done for me? How would they DEVELOP PROPERLY without them?

But last week I was sorting a box of old paperbacks my parents had found in their house that hadn't managed to travel with me when I moved out because apparently my siblings felt they had a right to read them or something like that, and Maddie became fascinated with the cover of Edward Eager's Half Magic. "Can we read this one sometime?" she asked, and I said, "sure" in that offhand way that meant "Yes in that theoretical SOMETIME in which we read ANYTHING." But she kept asking, again while I was shelving the new-old books, and again when it WASN'T EVEN IN SIGHT. That's the most interested I've EVER seen her in a book that wasn't about Disney characters or My Little Pony. Somehow Katharine in half a suit of armor was nearly as good as a fancy princess!

So I grabbed it down and I sat deliberately in the room where her brother was playing, and we started to read, and by the end of the first chapter they were both asking questions. For the second chapter they both actually sat beside me for awhile, though there was bouncing involved and I occasionally had to stop reading to scold them down from walking behind me on the back edge of the couch. But that's all right-- they can't sit still, okay, but they WERE listening. When they interrupted, it was to DISCUSS THE STORY. If they were going to go off track, it was only to share what THEY would wish if they had a magic nickel. And that was the most I've EVER heard them engage with a chapter book.

Soon Maddie was coming up with all kinds of predictions and other theories, including the rather mind blowing observation that if she wished for two more magic nickels she'd get one more, or two total, and then if she wished BOTH coins would grant half the wish WHICH WOULD MAKE ONE WHOLE so she'd only need to make regular wishes from then on. And Sam? Sam was asking me to read to him.

HE NEVER ASKS ME TO READ TO HIM.

He'd rush to get ready in the morning so we'd have time to read before school! He'd get ready for bed without complaint to we could get on with reading! He'd even FOREGO MINECRAFT to read! What sorcery IS this?

Half magic, apparently.

They both started asking for a sequel even before we finished. Half Magic's the only one I have, in both my personal AND public libraries, but I got on the system's OPAC and ordered Knight's Castle from the next library over and it showed up the next day (that being today). Maybe this is the start of something. Maybe I WILL read them Harry Potter in a year or so and The Secret Garden next spring (that one has to be read in the spring), I'll read them Dahl now and try Cleary again, and eventually in a few more years we WILL sit down for a few months of Lord of the Rings so I can finally show Sam WHY he's named Sam, and THEN I will have succeeded at motherhood.

I hope.

But at least this was fun while it lasted.

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