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Reading aloud

June 18, 2014

Reading stories aloud to my children has been one of the most enjoyable perks of being a mother. Now that they are older, I miss the time spent with them reading—and rereading over and over—stories like “Flat Stanley” or picture books like “The Tomten,” or “A Chair for My Mother” (by our own river valley resident Vera Williams). All these books hold an esteemed and permanent place on our shelves.

I occasionally still read to my daughter at bedtime. But, years ago, the last book I read aloud to my son was the unabridged novel, “A Tale of Two Cities.” The tiny print wore me out, not to mention the many questions and distractions (such as my sudden time-aware need to defrost some hamburger meat).

I recently began listening to books on tape during long car drives. Along with my son’s “My Chemical Romance” and Green Day tracks, my CD player currently holds recordings of the novels “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen and John Steinbeck’s 1937 classic “Of Mice and Men.”

When my son, Sam, is in the car, I have to turn down the music just to ask a question. He is usually engrossed in playing air drums (and cymbals) and with much effort may offer a vague, monosyllabic answer. Don’t get me wrong; I like very loud music myself, but only for…just…so…long. The books on tape offer a quiet alternative.

I started with a recording of Cynthia Ozick’s searing short stories about the Holocaust, “The Shawl” and “Rosa,” read by Yelena Shmulenson. I had read them many times before, but listening to them while driving, they became a new and different creation. The reader’s lovely voice now figured into my consciousness of the story as well as the road signs, the changes in weather and the bright springtime daffodils at the roadsides. There were all new juxtapositions. Skin and bones deer, weak after our long winter, appeared at the road shoulder. The dandelions, going to seed, rose like candles in the fields.

Reading a story and listening to a story being read may be like the difference in swimming in a pool or a pond. Just as reading a novel between two covers or on a Kindle are two different experiences. (Then there is that whole topic of reading a book and then seeing its movie version.)

Reading aloud is not only an old-fashioned entertainment for parents and kids anymore either. According to a recent newspaper article, the George L. Cooke Elementary School in Monticello held a day for children to read aloud to visiting therapy dogs. Educators say the dogs provide the perfect audience for beginning and struggling readers. The kids had fun and were able to practice and build confidence in their public reading skills.