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Undercover Reading

My daughter and her husband caught their six-year-old reading in bed after lights out and celebrated.

Quietly, of course. They didn’t want her to know they’d seen her taking advantage of the fading daylight coming through her bedside window. Still, they managed to take a picture of her, surrounded by stuffed animals, holding George & Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends open on her lap. When it grew too dark to read by window, she abandoned all caution and turned on the light.

That’s when her parents, however reluctantly, felt compelled to step in. I’m pretty sure my granddaughter came away from the post-bedtime conversation with the confusing impression that sneak-reading by available light – window, flashlight or bedside lamp – is both not allowed and perfectly acceptable. The message is contradictory, but that’s okay. Children can handle ambiguity. Look how they understand about monsters under the bed (not real) and the tooth fairy (real, at least anecdotally.)

When my daughters were children, they both read books after bedtime. At least, I hope they did. They each had a bedroom full of books and plenty of opportunity, since the possibility that they were upstairs sneaking in a few pages didn’t trouble me in the slightest. How could it, when I regularly read in bed until I dropped off, knocking the book to the hardwood floor and startling the dog into leaving the room?

As a child, I not only read in bed before I went to sleep, I also reached for my book and read in bed the moment I woke up in the morning. (“Ew,” my mother would say. “How can you read before you brush your teeth?” Because reading doesn’t require clean teeth was my answer, but she never understood.) I also had a habit of locking myself and a book in my house’s only bathroom. My original errand and subsequent ablutions completed, I’d perch, still reading, on the edge of the old-fashioned tub. Gradually, I’d let myself slide down until I was sitting in the empty tub, my legs dangling over the curved side and my book open on my stomach. This was usually my position when someone started pounding on the door and (if it was my sister) yelling, “Are you reading in there again? I’m telling Mom!”

If reading openly is a pleasure comparable to eating a Popsicle on a summer’s day, reading sneakily is like running around the yard after dark: a pleasure that is all the sharper for its mild associations with danger. You feel like you’re getting away with something, even if you can see your parents out there in the shadowy hallway, hugging each other with delight.

My grandchildren’s voracious curiosity thrills me, the pulsing interest they bring to everything they learn and of course, the older two’s excitement at being able at last to read words on a page, on a billboard, in a menu. Hearing them sound out syllables is thrilling enough, but knowing they immediately apply their knowledge to rule bending is positively dazzling.

Hearing that my granddaughter had discovered the thrill of reading on the sly gave me the reassuring feeling of traditions repeating through generations. If this beloved girl is reading about George and Martha, Ivy and Bean and Laura Ingalls just as I once read about Freddy the Pig, Ginny and Geneva, and, yes, Laura Ingalls, the world may not be as off-balance as I sometimes believe it to be. It’s a lifeline to which I cling, some days.
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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Anita L Burkam

One year I bought The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende for my sister for X-mas. I started to read the first few pages and was hooked--but I still had to hide the book from her until the big day! So I read very carefully, not creasing the spine, and hurriedly putting the book away the second I heard anyone coming. And that book, which features meta self-reference and a kid reading secretly in the attic, was the PERFECT book to read on the sly. I highly recommend it to anyone who can work out a reason to have to read it secretly. Such a pleasure!

Posted : Jun 20, 2019 09:34


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