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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 acting editor in chief / 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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