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Ask Family Reading: Dueling Books

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Reader Cat writes: “I don’t know what to make of a recent reading development in our house. My ten-year-old received Polly Horvath’s Very Rich from his grandparents for Christmas, and we’ve been reading a few pages most nights before bed. We are enjoying the very Horvathian plot and characters (the whole thing is kind of like a Dickens-Dahl mind-meld).

The last couple of nights, though, he’s been picking up a graphic novel to read -- while I’m reading to him. When I object, he says he’s read the graphic novel three times already and knows what happens. But...who does that? Rude!

So here are my questions: Should I withhold reading Very Rich until my kid behaves? Or do I ignore my need for his rapt attention while Mother Reads Aloud? Have I already lost the battle by failing to insist he focuses on one thing at a time?"

Ohhhh Cat. This hits home on SO. MANY. LEVELS. While I have not yet experienced this Exact Thing, we have certainly encountered it with multiple screens (something I too am guilty of) and I am married to someone who listens to podcasts (on double speed, may I add!) while also carrying on conversations. How and why?!

I do actually think you should insist on one thing at a time. I’m no science brain lady, but with the overstimulation of life in general these days, I think it’s nice to give your mind a break and sit back and give your full attention to just one thing. Also, I agree that it is rude! You have a million other things you could be doing, but instead you have chosen (?) to spend Quality Time with your child, so at the very least he can put down the other book and pay attention to you.

This dovetails nicely into another bedtime reading routine I struggle with; I like to call it the Eat Your Pizza! Effect. This turn of phrase references my finer parenting moments when I am yelling at my kids to finish something actually delicious, like pizza or ice cream. And then I step outside of myself and think, what the actual hell am I saying? [Ed. note: See also Elissa's "Stop reading and get ready for school!" conundrum.] Here I would call it the Shut Up and Let Me Read! Effect. When I am reading at night to my kids, they often try to engage me in conversation, or talk about what’s happening in the book we are reading. And generally, my reaction is wrong every time. I almost always try to shush them, the subtext being “let me read you this book uninterrupted like they do in the movies. I know we are both loving this special bonding experience.” But that’s the wrong response! It’s not an interruption as much as it is a way to connect to the text, and be present in the moment. The correct thing to do (both from a literacy standpoint and a nice person standpoint) is to use the questions to promote further discussions about the book. It’s like a mini book club of two! I realize this seems annoying, like all those memes about treasuring these precious moments because they’ll be out of the house before you know it. But just like my earlier column about letting go of your bedtime expectations, if you go into the evening routine with a more flexible attitude, you’ll both have a better time. (Um, this sounds like I’m talking about something else.) If he really wants to read the graphic novel, why don’t you grab a book for yourself (not your phone! That doesn’t count!) and read side-by-side until he’s ready to get back to Very Rich? It’s sort of like when my littlest one is squirming and not that interested in whatever book I’m reading, and I close the book (not in a mean way, I hope?!!) and say “let me know when you’re ready and we can get back to it.”

With my older son, it’s less me reading to him, and more of the side-by-side reading now. Or I will read a few pages out loud and he will be reading over my shoulder at a much faster pace. It doesn’t seem that long ago that he was the one snuggled up to me asking questions about the picture book and prolonging our nighttime ritual. I guess what I’m saying is, treasure these precious moments because they’ll be out of the house before you know it. LOLZ.

Got a question about reading/parenting/literally anything? We want to answer it! Leave your Qs in the Comments below.

Sarah Howard Parker

Sarah Howard Parker is a writer and actress living in London. Her writing has appeared on Boston.com and The Awl. She blogs (infrequently) about karaoke at karaokeadvice.tumblr.com.

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Elizabeth Law

When I was in second grade, I would read one Bobbsey Twins book on my lap while the teacher read us another. She didn't like it, and always told us not to read while she was reading to us, but I did it anyway. I remember I had no trouble following the two stories at the same time. I think this is just because I was young and I could handle it. So that's what I think the son re-reading the graphic novel is doing. Enjoying both books.

Posted : Mar 05, 2020 09:55

Roger Sutton

I wonder if Cat's kid is signaling boredom with VERY RICH.

Posted : Mar 05, 2020 03:13

Laurie Easton Parker

Excellent response, Sarah! As a fellow (former) cuddle-time reader, mom of two voracious bookworms, & educator, I can say your reply definitely hit the mark. This feature is a great idea (as is any attempt to promote literacy) & I wish you lots of luck with this worthwhile endeavor. [disclosure: Sarah is my niece by marriage. However, if I did not agree with her response I would have said so.]

Posted : Mar 05, 2020 04:47


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