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Outgrowing shared reading someday

I fully expected my older grandchildren to start pulling away from reading together by now. 

They’d be nice about it. They’d gently explain — and by gently, I mean raucously, interrupting and overlapping each other, but still gently, in the sense that they’d sincerely not want to hurt my feelings — that they’re reading chapter books and graphic novels, and the books from the library’s children’s department are just too easy, given that they’re almost nine. 

Even my younger grandchild, who soon will be six, is getting a little long in the tooth for many children’s books. I’m braced for this news. I’ve been braced for a while. 

I troll the shelves for books I can read in one sitting that are more challenging than the ones about the littlest snowplow who saves the day, the smallest truck who saves the day, and the tiniest naked mole rat who crawls through the narrow opening none of the other naked mole rats can crawl through and, you guessed it, saves the day. 

These kids have always preferred (not just preferred — demanded) juicy stories over books about how a mother loves her child, or the various ways snow is beautiful. Not that they don’t appreciate mother love or snow, but at reading time, they want a plot. A recent find, Ship in a Bottle by Andrew Prahin, was appreciated for both its silliness and its message. (A gingersnap-loving mouse leaves a cat who wants to eat her to search for a more welcoming community. She travels on a ship that happens to be in a bottle, and, thanks to both resourcefulness and kindness, finds a happy home.) We liked Lauren Child’s The Goody, too. Business Pig by Andrea Zuill has amused all of us more than once. But don’t let me go on and on. 

My point is, I’ve tried to keep ahead of my grandchildren’s burgeoning literacy by searching for read-aloud children’s books that offer substance as well as amusement. I’m always glad to find humor, of course. Reading a funny book aloud is a mood enhancer for everyone in the room. If it could be bottled...but it can’t be. That’s why it’s so precious. 

And so far, at least, my perfectly-able-to-read-on-their-own grandchildren appear to understand how precious, because they have yet to voice even the slightest lessening of interest in my bags of books. The two older kids are in third grade now. One attends a French immersion school and has an accent that thrills me to mes orteils; the other is wildly excited about math. All three are involved in physical activities: bike-trail riding, wall-climbing, running, soccer, gymnastics, backpacking... The world expands daily for them. 

And yet, they still zoom in close when we read. Titles chosen specifically for the five-year-old are absorbed with as much interest as more challenging tales. When I pull out a book we’ve read before — a Mister Bud and Zorro story by Carter Goodrich, say, or a Daniel Pinkwater book about the untrustworthy bears of Bayonne, NJ — they greet them like old friends just as I do. The greatest compliment they can pay a book is to demand to hear a funny passage again (and sometimes yet again) or to remember weeks after the first reading a comical line word for word. 

Recently I read Drew Daywalt’s The Epic Adventures of Huggie & Stick, a story about a grouchy stuffed animal and a cheerfully oblivious stick, whose accidental tour of the world after falling from their owner’s backpack includes “200 miles on the back of a very determined Chihuahua.” When I produced it two weeks later to re-read to my grandsons, they said in unison, “'Two hundred miles on the back of a very determined Chihuahua!’” I didn’t know what they were talking about, and they were glad to explain. 

Incidentally, another Daywalt book, The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors illustrated by Adam Rex, is a personal favorite. The story of how three unvanquished champions come from their separate homelands — the kingdoms of backyard, Mom’s home office, and the kitchen realm — to engage in a final tournament is clever and a treat to read aloud. I think I’ve read it three times in one sitting, happily. 

My point is (did I say that already?) I know I’m reading on borrowed time. My grandchildren’s parents still read to their kids, of course, and also provide plenty of opportunities for solo reading. But my time with them inevitably will yield to the busy-ness of growing children. When I hang up my book bag to enjoy these people as they play, perform, present, and proclaim in future endeavors, I’ll be grateful that it was so popular for so long. 

I mean truly grateful, to these kids I love so much, and to the authors and illustrators who brought us together. How lucky can a grandma be? 

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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