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Reviewing outdoor reading

This is what book reading with grandchildren currently looks like during the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: We bundle up – to the teeth, to the ears, sometimes only to the neck, depending on the Ohio weather – tighten our face masks, and, if necessary, sit both on and under blankets.

If the get-together is at my house, we head for the padded bench on our back porch. It’s out of the wind, as long as the wind isn’t roaring straight out from the north, and my husband willingly wheels over a propane heater, which is good for getting through at least a bag of books.

One recent week my younger daughter visited twice, bringing one son each time. Twice I ran through the aforementioned book bag; twice we served hot cocoa along with the stories, which were mostly familiar favorites.

A word about borrowing library books via curbside service. Thanks to libraries’ willingness to adapt and accommodate, checking out books online is more convenient than I’d thought it would be. Online browsing, however, is ridiculous. I could look at every title on the library’s website, but I’d like to do a few other things during the (I hope) years before I leave this mortal coil.

The best approach that I can see is to search by beloved authors. Since the search field includes all the books in all the libraries participating in the library loan program, I’ve discovered titles I hadn’t known existed. Christmas at Mud Flat was one such find. We’ve read – and I’ve praised – many of James Stevenson’s Mud Flat books, but this one, published in 2000, was new to me, and the thrill of finding these holiday stories about Priscilla and Sherwood and Freddie and the gang was akin to finding the latest Ann Patchett novel in the adult section.

Also in the book bag: My friend Daniel Pinkwater’s Bad Bears in the Big City, one of several books about two muffin-loving polar bears, Irving and Muktuk. (A quick clarification: I’m not really friends with Mr. Pinkwater. I’ve never met the guy. But his books, his turns of phrase, and his incorrigible bears are all so much up my alley, he feels like a friend.)

My grandchildren and I have long since read all the Bad Bears books. Revisiting the not-to-be-trusted pair, their ursine colleague Roy, who goes home to his own apartment when the zoo workday ends, and Roy’s brother Larry, who lives at a hotel and has his own series of books, is never disappointing. One of our favorite parts of this particular book is when Irving and Muktuk, who use pillows to disguise themselves as school children to tour the muffin factory, reach the end of the tour in the factory’s tasting room. It is there, Pinkwater writes, that Irving and Muktuk are discovered to be bears.

Back to the physical challenges of reading during a pandemic. At my grandsons’ house, we have two outdoor choices: The yellow chairs on the front porch, or the table and chairs on the back patio. Again, much depends on the wind, its strength and direction. Either way, it’s possible to be almost comfortable as long as it isn’t actually spitting snow.

Visiting my granddaughter for a reading session is almost like normal life. We stay on the screened front porch, but thanks to two heaters my older daughter and son-in-law wisely purchased some weeks ago, we could almost forget we’re not all the way inside. The constant parade of deliveries to their door reminds us: Groceries, office supplies, outdoor equipment, and various other items arrive steadily, carried by friendly people whose eyes smile over their masks. Between deliveries, we speed through book after book. Daisy Hirst’s Alphonse, That Is Not OK to Do! – another re-run, but who cares – has to be read twice, with special attention to the pages about naming the pigeons (“Banana!” “Lorraine!”) and Alphonse’s idea for fixing Natalie’s chewed-up book.

If this were a Yelp review, I’d give outdoor reading in winter a thumbs up. “It would be cozier to be snuggled on a couch in the house,” I’d concede. “And it’s true that turning pages is more difficult when one’s fingers are numb. But if it’s between reading and talking to my grandchildren outdoors and masked or not at all, I’ll take the outdoors and masked and love it.”

Four and a half stars.

Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett wrote, copy-edited, and proofread for newspapers for nearly thirty years and currently does occasional freelance writing and editing. She previously worked for a school book fair company, which offered her the chance to catch up on children’s and YA literature, her favorite genres.
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Paula Nemes

Kudos to you for staying safe and still enjoying this important time with your grandkids! Browsing an online library catalog can be very challenging. Calling or emailing your librarian for suggestions is easy! Just tell us which titles/authors your grandkids enjoy, what they are interested in, and we can place a batch on hold for you. Some of our patrons are at the point of just saying, "Please have another 20 titles ready for me. I'll pick them up tomorrow." This is a great way to find new authors your family will love.

Posted : Feb 15, 2021 06:55


Melissa Stewart

Don't forget that kids love nonfiction read alouds too.

Posted : Feb 14, 2021 03:23


Mary Graf

Reading books to my faraway grandchildren on FaceTime is my favorite way to stay connected. I sent Valentine’s Day books to my 3 year old grandson and his 1 year old sister to introduce them to a new holiday. I borrowed the books from the library to preview before purchase, and later to read to them. Now I can’t wait for them to receive their handmade Valentines from Grammie!

Posted : Feb 10, 2021 08:11


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