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Oh, Marilla!

My ten-year-old and I have been having a grand old time reading aloud Anne of Green Gables at bedtime. Himself a rather high-spirited, rambunctious, and imaginative child, my kid LOL’d at the liniment in the cake scene, the drunk Diana debacle, Gilbert Blythe’s near-fatal “carrots” error, and even the puffed sleeves covetousness (his version being new baseball pants). And yet.

Inevitably we reached the end of the book. That part. It wasn’t a surprise — he’d sort of offhandedly, and uncannily, already guessed (Me: “There’s a sad part close to the end.” Him: “What, does Matthew DIE or something?!” Me: “Um…” *blink blink* Him: “Oh…”).

There’s foreshadowing in the previous chapter, when Anne comes home triumphant and elated from Queen’s having just won the Avery Scholarship, and then we learn: “Matthew wasn’t feeling well.”

“Do you want me to keep reading? Or should we save this part for tomorrow?” I asked, and wasn’t surprised when my usually “More-more-more” child said, “Let’s read it tomorrow. Or…do we have to read that part?”

My initial reaction was, yes, we have to read it; we should read it; it’ll be right and cathartic (not to mention literary). And yet: here we are, global pandemic, civil unrest, death, murder, election, isolation. Do we have to read it?

We didn’t have to — but after talking about it, we decided to try. I read some aloud and got choked up; we read together silently, and maybe skipped some parts. In the end we felt worse — and better. Because that’s exactly something that books can do.

See also Laurel Snyder's "Uneasy Reading: On Keeping Company with Very Sad Books" from the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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