JUNIPER reads to Laura and Amanda in the living room. From my desk, a room away, I miss some of what she reads, but when I have time, I'll pick up the book and catch up. Sometimes I join their reading, but I often have work to do and miss out on part of it.
Reading aloud in this family has gone on for more than 17 years, since soon after Juniper was born. There was an interruption when Juniper and Amanda started public school, last year. For a while, their time was so occupied with school, getting there and back and homework, that there was no time for it.
Amanda didn't like the reduced family time nor the lack of time for her own writing, drawing, and music, and so she returned to home schooling, and the reading started again. She read to Laura while Laura cooked, or Laura read while Amanda worked. Often, I came in from outdoor work or left writing at my desk and went into the kitchen for something I wanted or for company. When I left, I usually said, "Read. Read," indicating that the interruption was over, and they should continue. My words were a refere nce to the past, when we lived in Whitney Valley in northeastern Oregon.
When Amanda and Juniper were small, they both fit into the rocking chair with Laura. Before bedtime, they moved the old blue rocker (whose noisy springs we all agreed said, "comfort, comfort") close to the wood-burning stove in cold weather or close to the open window when it was hot, and Laura read to them.
Laura has always been an early to bed and early to rise person, and often, while reading, she drifted off to sleep. Sometimes, as she began to drift, the story she was reading got mixed up with her beginning dream, and what she said became uproariously funny for her listeners. They erupted in laughter and talked about what she had said, but then insisted, "Read. Read." Sometimes she woke up enough to finish reading. Sometimes she just couldn't muster the energy, and I snuggled down between the two warm, eager listeners.
I also read to them even when Laura didn't fall asleep. With four of us exploring the library, reading book reviews, and listening to recommendations from people around us, we came up with an ever larger selection of books to read together. I read "Wind in the Willows" to them three times. For a while, when they were small, every time we went out along ditches, down by the river, and out across the meadow, they looked for Moley and Ratty. While I may not have actively joined the search, I hoped they woul d find the two characters from the book, and I wouldn't have been surprised if they did. The girls felt like Moley in the spring: "Hang spring cleaning." The adventure is outdoors. Seek it.
THEY often became the characters we read about. When Juniper was four, for quite some time, she would answer to no name but "Pooh Bear." She was Pooh Bear, and nothing was gained by questioning that fact, though some tried. Laura and I didn't. We rather liked living with Pooh Bear for a while. He is an interesting, warm, and loving bear.
Eventually, three no longer fit in the rocking chair. The reading went on. The girls learned to read many books to themselves. The reading went on. We moved to other houses. Our jobs and schedules changed. Laura and I got busier. The reading went on. Its patterns changed. Our daughters began to read to us.
Juniper and Amanda developed a system of classifying books according to how good we thought they were. To be classified high in their system, a book had to be well written, with an exciting story and believable characters, and it had to have a positive ending and a positive, lasting theme. The book had to be free of anything seriously objectionable. If animals were portrayed as operating only by instinct, devoid of intelligence, if the author was guilty of racist or sexist thought, or if any information in the book was inaccurate, the book did not receive the highest classification.
Some of the books that received high ranking were J.R.R Tolkien's "The Hobbit," "The Gammage Cup" by Carol Kendall, and "The Once and Future King," by T.H. White. Books that held meaning deeper than their surface meaning were favored, because there was much to delve into between readings and when the books were finished. "The Dark is Rising" series, by Susan Cooper, led to discussions about religion, about the power of good and evil, and about what the readers saw as strong touches of religious irrevere nce in the books.
Recently, Amanda and Juniper read "The Outsiders" and S. E. Hinton's other books to Laura, which led to long discussions about social problems. The older version of the Hardy boys books, on the other hand, were read just for the fun of reading.
Most of the reading now is by Amanda and Juniper, for Laura. I attend part of the time, between times of attempting to earn a living, and caution myself not to allow my priorities to become so skewed that I miss too much of the reading aloud.
We read to our daughters when they were very small because we all enjoyed it. It was a warm and rich experience for all of us, sharing stories and building a common background of wide, shared experience.
Laura and I could not have foreseen that what we began so many years ago, when our daughters were quite small, would grow to this rewarding experience, where they return the favor happily and help us continue to expand our world as we helped them expand theirs.
Our experience, the solid family unity that reading together helped build, our feeling of being richly rewarded, leads me to repeat the advice I've been giving for years to people caring for children, "Read. Read."