In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Family listening

Dear Annie,

Ah, so well said.  And so full of cross-generational memories!  It's wonderful to know that my father read you all the R.L. Stevenson adventures that he read with such relish to me.  No wonder we all love reading with kids so much.  Our imaginations were formed by the voracious reading habits of a quiet Ohio boy of the 1920s whose parents didn't read to him.

There's one reading experience that I discovered with my kids that wasn't a part of my childhood: audio books.  We got into them as a form of entertainment on long trips, then the girls and I would listen in the car when we were running around town, and ultimately the girls would listen to much-loved books over and over again in their rooms.  For reasons I don't quite understand, the audio book experience is different from a parent reading a book.  Sure, there's the obvious difference of having a skilled professional performing the book.  But it also puts parents and kids together on the same side of the experience: we all listen together. 

I never read the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary as a child, and was thrilled to read them to the girls, but the best discovery of all was the
Stockard Channing recordings
.  Cleary is so empathetic to Ramona, whatever age she is.  And Channing captures that real understanding of what it's like to be in kindergarten and angry at the injustice of school rules, or in third grade and throwing up in public, or participating in a wedding with too-tight shoes.  Channing adds dimension to the books, without distorting them.

The summer Mona turned 10 and Lizzie was 11 we drove across the country, listening to books on tape all the way.  There was something very odd about listening to P.G. Wodehouse, a wildly witty British author (and inventor of Jeeves the butler) while driving across Wyoming, but it worked!

And of course the ultimate voice/book combination, embedding itself in the brains of an entire generation since 1999, is
Jim Dale reading Harry Potter
.  He did all seven books, creating voices for hundreds of characters.  I've already written about his "Sorr-eee, Harr-eee,"
an inflection that's positively contagious.

We wondered at times if the girls' love of some audio books was keeping them from reading on their own.  They always read to themselves, but sometimes audio books trumped reading.  During those in-between years of knowing how to read, but not being able to read everything one wanted to fluently, I think the audios sometimes snuck in as a welcome escape.  And the well-loved ones were welcome background noise: it used to drive me crazy that Lizzie would do math homework while listening to a book.  The homework got done, though, and she's been a committed read-to-herself reader for a long time.  But it was a stage in the process of becoming fluent. 



No comments:

Post a Comment