Friday, June 20, 2008

The Reading Round Up

I love reading to my kids. I am, if I do say so myself, pretty good at it. That University degree in drama eventually did come in useful! I do all the character voices, have a red hot go at the accents (I recently appalled myself with my awful attempt at an American accent but the kids didn't complain) and I love to build the suspense or play the comedy. This has had a lovely flow-on to Climber's own reading style so that he is gratifyingly expressive too - I think from my experience listening to the grade 1s and 2s doing their reading in their flat little monotones that this is slightly unusual. I do sometimes feel bad for Fixit because he has to do the stories three nights each week when I teach tap; Fixit (a) doesn't really enjoy reading aloud, probably because he never reads for pleasure, and (b) did accounting /mechanics as his further education - they don't help you much when you're up to your ears in Harry Potter. And the boys are so tactful about who they prefer to listen to... But true to form Fixit puts his shoulder to the wheel and provided it's not Enid Blyton he doesn't seem to mind it so much any more. In fact, he quite enjoys it when we do Roald Dahl (and who wouldn't?).

Currently, the Climber gets a chapter book and the Cherub has a couple of picture books. Then it occurred to me that Cherub is just about ready for some babyish chapter books, like The Wishing Chair or The Magic Faraway Tree (oh the agony! Climber loved these so much -and you know, the ideas are great - but by the third time we had to read about those little prigs Fanny, Bessie and that horrid bossy Dick, Fixit and I were so irritated that we were having bitch sessions to each other about how much we hated them. True story) . The prospect of having to read two different chapter books each night made me wonder if I should ditch reading aloud to Climber and instead get him a reading light for his bed so that he could take care of his own needs. It seemed like a good idea to promote the reading in bed anyway, so we braved the madness of Ikea-on-a-weekend and bought lamps for both boys; now after they've been read to they snuggle up in their beds and do some more reading under their own steam, which means Cherub looks at pictures and pulls out pop-up flaps and Climber steams through the Captain Underpants books and whatever else I give him until we can get another Captain Underpants from the library. But he didn't want us to stop reading to him, and it suddenly occurred to me that my days of reading aloud to my boys are numbered. And then I looked glumly into my own future and realised how much I will miss it. So although we may have a period where it feels a bit cumbersome, I'm going to keep in mind that there will come a time when my stupid accents and dramatic shrieks and sighs will just embarrass them, and then I'll have to put it all on hold until the grandchildren arrive.

The books we've read to Climber have included a great deal of Roald Dahl and to date, the first 5 Harry Potters. In between I've slipped in some Flat Stanley, some Mrs Pepperpot and Black Beauty. I've also tried him with a couple of books by my favourite children's author, Noel Streatfeild. Maybe one day I'll try her most famous book, Ballet Shoes, with him, just because I loved it so much. I've still got my original copy with my name and "3 Blue" (my grade) inscribed on it...

It might not be a conventional choice for boyish literature, but as we all know, dancing is not just for girls. And the whole 'three adopted sisters making their way in the world' is a cracking good yarn, regardless of the reader's gender. Well. At Climber's age, anyway. But to begin with I thought I'd read one of hers with a more universal, trans-gender appeal, so I tried The Circus Is Coming. Circuses are fun, I reasoned. But actually, it's not one of her better books and most of the characters are not very likeable, so it was only an okay read, not a big hit.

Then last month we read this book:

When The Siren Wailed is the story of a family of 3 kids; Laura (9), Andy (6) and Tim (4) who are evacuated from London just before World War II begins, to the countryside in Dorset. I was blown away by what a great book it was to share with Climber. The idea of kids of Climber's age being sent away from their home and their parents, while the world went to war, is one you might find in a gruesome fairy tale. That it's based on fact made it incredibly gripping. Every chapter we read involved a big history lesson and he was as interested to hear it as I was to explain. It was great. Reading it as a parent, though, had me really gasping at one thing that I didn't even really notice when I read it years ago. Which was that the mother in the story sent her kids away to be cared for by strangers and she stayed in London to work and be near her home & husband (till he sailed with the Navy). She didn't see her children for a year and a half. Her youngest was 4 when the story began. And even though I know that the circumstances, chief of which was the family's abject poverty, made this her only option, I still boggle at it. Imagine having to do it. Imagine.

There's a scene in the book when a German soldier parachutes into a nearby field after his plane is shot down. Poor Climber got so terribly anxious about the fate of the captured pilot that I ended up painting his fate as happy because of the increased chances of survival in a British POW jail. Which is probably true when you think about soldier mortality rates in that conflict. A week later the book was still playing on Climber's mind and after school one day he told me he needed to fly to London to vomit. I said Huh? I'd misheard him of course, he was halfway to London by then, arms spread in his Sopwith Camel (or whatever) to bomb it. And I'm not sure if that's exactly what I wanted him to get out of this book, but I think it means that the story really came alive for him. And by golly, that IS what I want my kids to get from reading.


  1. My mum, aged 6 and her sister, aged 7 were evacuated from London to a tiny village in Devon during the war. (Their little brother, aged 5, was deemed too young and stayed with their mother). They were gone for four years.

    You should hear the stories she tells.

    My youngest is NINE and I can't imagine having to pack him a suitcase and pop him on a train to go live with total strangers for the next few years. My god.

    On another note, the Cherry Tree Farm/Willow Farm series (Enid Blyton) is good for that age group if you're sick of the Faraway Tree. And you must read Climber the Rowan of Rin series. I tell everyone that. I'm on a mission to ensure every child reads it.

  2. We still read to our kids (8 & 10) - well I try to get Firegazer to do it these days. I can't imagine the day when they won't want to be read to.

    We read them the same book, at the same time. At the moment we're reading the Nicholas books. I think Blossom loves them even more than PL. She wants to join the Nicholas Fan club but being a French book the online club is in a choice of French or German...

    I love your old copy of Ballet Shoes, I think an old book looks so much more enticing than a new one.

  3. I can't imagine being in a position that I would have to make the decision to send my children away. Those were very brave parents who did they in the best interest of their children. I would have been selfish in the same circumstance...

  4. I read to both of mine until I'm hoarse. Rob is currently reading The Hobbit to J.T. as a chapter book while I read the typical kiddy fare. I love to do the expressions and accents. My favorites are pirates (who can resist a good ARGHHHH, Matey)! I do a horrible spanish accent for Skippy Jon Jones and the Banditos.

  5. Suse you should commit your mother's story to paper because 4 years.. bloody hell. The whole thing is incomprehensible.

    M I hear you on the same story thing but by the time he's up for it, Cherub will be so far behind and I'm assuming he'll want to hear the HP books properly. He does kind of listen already but I don't think he takes much in yet.

    Tracey, like you, I would have been wanting to be on the train with the kids heading out of London.

    Melinda. Shiver me timbers etc, hoist the mainsail. Or splice it. Or something.

  6. Weren't the kids in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe sent to the country because of the war? It's heartbreaking to think that an entire generation went through that.

    That being said, I still read aloud to my 12 and 10 year old kiddos! We read the same book in the same room just before bed. Right now it's HP5. This was supposed to be a thing where the four of us took turns reading aloud, but the kids say I do it better (preen, preen) so instead it's been all me reading, all the time. Which I don't mind, really.

  7. Can you believe I still read to my 13 yo son? We're currently reading "The Subtle Knife", Book II of the Philip Pullman trilogy. The excellent Book I "The Golden Compass" was turned into that recent hideous film.

    Can't say I'm particularly gifted at bringing the story alive or being theatrical, but at his age he probably prefers me not to be.

    It's the time of day, and sets the scene, for many a good night-time chat. He then drifts off to sleep listening to audio books.

    P.S. He can (and does) read!

  8. If it's any consolation, my Australian accent is so awful that I have to retire to a quiet corner to sob away my shame.

    If I do it again, I may have to get elected President just so I can go on national television to apologize to the whole of Australia.


  9. We have just had a whole week at school about being evacuated, although actually living in rural Dorset means everyone was evacuated down here.

    It was quite funny to watch the kids when they heard the air raid siren while running around the field, they would all drop flat and cover their heads with their arms.

    Just this week I have started reading my two (g9&b6)the 'Little House on the Prairie' series. They are agog at the tales.

    Another one we HIGHLY recommend is the Dragonkeepr series. These would be terrific to do outloud.

  10. My eldest prefers to read to himself now, but when he was younger, we had some great story times. It was fun to go back in time and explore older worlds together. My littlest boy doesn't really want to read stories if they don't include teenage ninja turtles or Horrid Harry. It's depressing, but I keep trying. Might have a go with the books you mention here!

    Happy weekend,


  11. This post has the official English Teacher's Seal of Approval.

  12. I love the choice of books but don't forget the Australian classics. I remember vividly "The Magic Pudding", "Snugglepot and Cuddlepie". Great books to have read to you as a kid.......

  13. (Mental note- look out for Rowan of Rin)

    I am also a little sick of The Faraway Tree books, but I remember loving them SO much...

    I read all the Noel Streatfield books that were in our school library, and I am sure that "When the Siren Wailed" was among them, it is conjuring up very strong images. I have forgotten so much of what I have read.

    We can lend you the Captain Underpants books.

  14. Oh yes, and to add to Suse's suggestions, I used to really like The Adventurous Four, and The Naughtiest Girl in School series.

  15. Stomper, you are giving your boys a great gift in enticing them into a deep love of books. And doing accents and funny voices to boot! - you are one seriously cool Mum.

  16. Working in a big primary school library I get to hear lots of teachers reading to kids and some of them read just like the grade 1's as well - slow and monotoned.
    There is nothing as fabulous as a good reader reading aloud - it just enthralls the kids. I love reading aloud and I vote for squealing and shushing and silly voices and scary bits !!!
    and I second the Rowan of Rin series!

  17. We are a very big book family and fortunately Holly has the reading bug too. She absolutely LOVES her books and anything we read to her. Imagine my horror when I heard the story of a woman who never ever read to her little boy, explaining "that's not my job, it's the teacher's". What the?

  18. I have such a long list of books to read to the kids or encourage them to read - Swallows and Amazons, Seven Little Australians, The Railway Children. I remember a post Nutmeg wrote about Noel Streatfield so I bought a few of those ...
    and have kept all my old Anne of Green Gables books too.

  19. Charlottes Web was a big hit in my house with both boys who are 2.5 years apart. Oldest was maybe 7 when I read it to them both. Give it a whirl!

  20. You have inspired me to make more of an effort to read to my boys (twins just turned 5, little one 3 and a quarter) - Perhaps we could move onto chapter books for the twins. You also reminded me how much I used to love the Enid Blyton books when I was little - maybe I'll try them on something like that.

    Many thanks - Katie

  21. Reading to your kids is such a pleasure.. I can't imagine people out there don't do it, but then, look at the literacy in this country. it's all going to hell. C u l8tr :)

  22. Part of my ten-year old daughter's homework each day is to read aloud for at least 10 minutes (in addition to the silent reading she also has to do) so she often fulfils that obligation by reading to the 4 year old. I have the most gorgeous photos of the two of them sitting in bed in matching pjs reading all about the creatures in Arthur Spiderwicks Field Guide!

  23. My Mum read me Oscar Wilde's kids stories when I was in upper primary school I think. She read me some Dickens too, which really is meant to be read aloud and in chunks.

    We're still up to the Green Sheep, Spot and Hairy McLary. The kid is 'reading' more to himself though. This week he even started doing impressions of me.

    He gets a book, carries it into my room, climbs into my side of the bed, pulls the doona up, and starts reading. He looks very bloody happy with himself too.

  24. Reading to the kids is such a special thing to do. Its just a pity that reading time coincides with the start of Eastenders. What's a girl to do??
    My boys love it and we've read the Faraway Tree / Wishing Chair series. The husband and I giggle at the Fanny bit every time. Mature aren't we?
    My 7 year old reads heaps, he's reading the Artemis Fowl series at the moment, but still loves us reading to him.
    Watership Down is the next one I'm going to read to the two of them. Anything but another Specky Magee!!

  25. You are so good - I always hurry up reader time because it coincides with bedtime.bad bad bad mum.

  26. Reading to my kids is probably one of the things I miss most now that they're grown. Make sure Climber gets a chance to read the series by Lloyd Alexander, one of which is "Taran Wanderer", [can't remember the name of the series.] My boys loved them. Then there's The Black Stallion series. And do you get Brian Jaques and his Redwall books down under? They were a huge hit here...........I'm like you, hamming it up on the drama and the accents. And it shows in how they read. My youngest took a public speaking course in college recently and was appalled at how many kids did that boring monotone-I-want-to-die-and-just-get-out-of-here routine!

  27. Love this post - reading aloud is one of my favourite parenting perks. I was reading to the classroom across from Climber's yesterday while they ate their lunch and made them all jump and laugh when I did a very loud and authentic "Ooooooh Owwwww Eeeeeee"!

    We have done the ritual bestowing-the-bedside-reading-lamp as each daughter has hit reading independence (while still reading aloud as well) and they were also granted an extra 20 minutes lights out extension - only for reading (ie, you can be in bed reading during that time or in bed asleep). Rock solid reading habits to the point of my eldest once sobbing at midnight when we'd all been out to some party "but I HAVE to read before I go to sleep, you can't take away my reading from me!" I just wish the Harry Potter chapters weren't quite so looooong.

  28. Oh and forgot to say that my youngest would love you - she could always read a whole reader with an American accent or a weird Scottish-esque burr - hysterical...

  29. The Lloyd Alexander books are the "Chronicles of Prydain".

    I definitely think you should keep reading as long as the boys are still interested. I have fond memories of Mum reading to us for hours, even after I could already read (I'm the oldest). I used to read to my sister and brother at bedtime when we were older - all the Anne of Green Gables books, and later Terry Pratchett. He doesn't usually do chapters... I used to end up rather hoarse.

    I'm going to put in a vote for Diana Wynne Jones if you can get her books in Australia. "The Ogre Downstairs" might be good for Cherub and "Archer's Goon" for Climber's age group.

    Not sure I could read Enid Blyton out loud, or not without hamming it up

  30. You could always try My Naughty Little Sister - some of the boys in my class (Climber's age) really like that, so you get a break from Enid's insufferable Fanny.

    Is the Book of Three one of those Lloyd Alexander books? I remember my final year in Primary Mr Tuffnall reading it out with funny voices. Brilliant!

    Climber might be a bit young so far, but Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is good too (terrible for a teacher but I can't remember the author). Fairly sure it ws published by Puffin though (most books I read as a child were)

    I wish the parents of the boys in my class read to them at bedtime. You can tell you read to Climber because his writing is of a much more sophisticated nature - he's tried a story in chapters, hasn't he?

    I think it's womdeful that someone's still sharing stories with their 13 year old - why not? More of it please, I say!

  31. In the UK (and maybe elsewhere) they have changed Fanny's name to Frannie. Unbelievable!

    I keep meaning to introduce my elder daughter to Noel Streatfield. Off to Amazon I go ...


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