Saturday, March 22, 2014

Reading Bedtime Stories To Children

I liked reading to my two sons at bedtime when they were little, but I had little imagination about what to read them. I had once bought Beowulf for myself to read on the train, and not being able to think of anything better, I read chunks of it to them over the course of a week. Surprisingly, they liked it, and I realized, what boy doesn't like stories about fighting a monster, and under water no less?

I did find one children's story that I liked--Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George.  It's about a thirteen year-old Eskimo girl who lives on the North Slope of Alaska who runs away from a marriage that she was pushed into. Lost on the tundra, she is accepted by a pack of wolves with whom she learns to communicate and from whom she receives food, water, and a sense of family.  At one point out on the tundra, the girl sings a song which she had composed. As soon as I read the first stanza of the song, my older son cut me off and recited the rest of the song. Apparently, in school someone had read the book to them, and he was able to recite it from memory.  

Around this time, I had been in a Bible study that was reading the Book of Daniel. Something possessed me to read some of it to them. I learned right way that whatever the content was, if I read it melodramatically, my sons found it entertaining. In that book, there are characters called satrapies, which were viceroys--public administrators--appointed by the Persian king. Whenever I read a sentence about the satrapies, I read it in a tone as if they were awesome, powerful, fearsome creatures, like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. My younger son loved it, as if it was a cartoon, and he playfully acted-out trembling in fear at every mention of the satrapies.

Once I did try reading The Hobbit to them, but it was too boring for me to tolerate, and I just couldn't do it a second time. They happened to be children when the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter, and many good Disney movies were coming out. But I think reading books does far more for creativity, the imaginations, and literacy than watching movies. On their own, my sons have read all of the Harry Potter Books. They've read some of the Chronicles of Narnia and at least some of Lord of the Rings. I have never read any of the aforementioned, and at my age, I can;t seem to get into them. When I was a child, I had no knowledge of C.S Lewis or J.R. Tolkien.  I had read Daniel Defoe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, and Herman Melville.  I don't know why I didn't think of reading any of their books to them.

Scroll ahead about ten years.  My older son Andrew came home from high school one day and said that they had been reading Beowulf in English class. He said that he still remembered the story from when I had read it to them as children. He said that because of that, he was able to engage more deeply with the story in class and provide a more in-depth analysis than the other students.

Today, my older son, a college junior, is a regular reader and a pretty good writer. But to my great disappointment, my younger son, a college freshman, does not like to read or write. He is capable of reading and writing well, but he never does so voluntarily.

I wish I had read better material to them more often. Only this year, did I learn about Grimm's Fairy Tales, for example. Besides being good for the imagination and helping children get ready to sleep, I think it helps to build a positive kind of relationship with them that you can build on, as they get older.

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