2007.01.07 The bedtime reading ritual

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I read the other day that one in 10 parents dreads hearing the words, “Please read to me before I go to sleep.”

The study found that many parents “struggle to understand the bedtime stories they read to their children.” What? Are they reading “Introduction to Astrophysics”?

Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.

Maybe they’re choosing the wrong books.

The study also found that a quarter of the parents surveyed skipped passages or made up words to get to the end of the sentence. I can see where you wouldn’t want your six-year-old to urge you on, saying, “Now just sound it out. What does the first letter say?”

The study was carried out in the United Kingdom and it appears that evening reading is going well over there. It was listed as preferable to playing in the park or watching television.

It was certainly my preference when our kids were growing up, but then again, we didn’t have a TV to compete against. The nightly reading saga was big entertainment. Just think how exciting it must be now during the Harry Potter era.

In two days this week, I heard two different radio interviewers talk with actor Jim Dale, now famous as the voice on the recorded version of the Harry Potter books.

Dale is very good. He does distinct voices for each of the main characters. In book five, he said, there were 134 characters that author J.K. Rowling wanted put to voice. Sixty of those voices were eliminated in book six, but more than 60 new ones were introduced.

Dale kept track of characters with a tape recorder so he would remember a voice when it again entered the story.

I was certainly no professional like Jim Dale, but I did try out some voices now and then. Maybe a little falsetto for female characters, but it wasn’t really popular and I was sometimes asked to stop.

Even more likely, I would get called for making a character say something inappropriate.

“Is the moon really made of green cheese?” Laura asked Ma.

“No, you little nincompoop,” she said. “Looks are deceiving. Sheesh!”

I think it was probably during the third time through the Little House series that I started to get a little loose with the process. I was just as intrigued as the kids were the first time through.

With careful finger work, it was possible to turn two pages at once and blend right into the story line despite the loss of details. Sometimes you got caught, sometimes you didn’t.

But that was never done with the Little House books. They were the sacred text of night-time reading. You don’t mess with Laura Ingalls Wilder, except, perhaps on the third time through, but by then it was tough not to play it straight because the kids already knew the story.

I still remember the power of those tales, like the time we read “The Long Winter” during the heat of July.

The window fan was running, it was probably 80° in the bedroom, but when I finished reading about the trials and tribulations of an exceptional winter in the little town of De Smet in the Dakota Territories, I half expected to look out the window and see snow on the ground. I really got drawn into those tales.

As many of you know, there’s excellent children’s literature that makes good reading for adults. “Julie of the Wolves.” “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” “Caddie Woodlawn.” “The Indian in the Cupboard.” “Danny, the Champion of the World.” I could take any of those out of the bookcase and read them tomorrow.

Well, not tomorrow. For me, tomorrow is Monday, a busy newspaper day, followed by Tuesday, a bigger newspaper day.

I was always excused from reading to the kids on Mondays because I was at work. I’d catch up on tired Tuesdays, but that would lead to another problem.

Suddenly the voice would go silent. I’d be in that relaxed state of mind and just doze off. An elbow from Ben or a “Dad, wake up!” from Rozee would get me going again.

I’ve read that one out of 10 weekly newspaper editors fears these words on a Tuesday night: “Please read to me before you fall to sleep.”

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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