“I honestly like being read to more than reading,” our 11-year-old said after I put down the Michael Vey book that I’ve been reading aloud to him and his brother. He’s a quick and capable reader, so it’s not because it’s difficult to read a book like this himself. But I think he means there’s something very compelling about a shared story, a story that we can analyze together, make predictions about, and keep talking about, long after the book is done. It’s especially gratifying when you’ve found a book with strong, likable characters, a good plot, and themes like loyalty and courage.
Our ten-year-old has become known for devouring thick books, but he has very definite ideas about what he likes to read. He’s recently made it though the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and has moved on to Heroes of Olympus. A few weeks ago he was a bit agitated when he was out of said reading material and still had one more day to go before his next library visit at school. His affection for 500-plus page tomes sometimes leaks out as scorn for picture books, a sentiment that his younger brother has picked up on. Not to be left behind, our seven-year-old has also expressed a preference for chapter books. Trouble is, he can’t read too many of those himself.
So, I’ve been adding more chapters to our read-aloud times. I insist the older boy put down his other book when I’m reading a chapter book aloud. He’s been known to express his displeasure about this, but he is often drawn into the story more than he’d like to admit. We recently finished reading Caddie Woodlawn together and both of the boys have brought up topics from it for discussion later. My younger son even retold the Pee Wee story from the book at a recent family story time. (His dad and and an aunt who was here hadn’t heard it before.)
But I’m not ready to give up picture books, so I still scan the shelves at the Rice Street Library during most of our visits. Sometimes I even find a book that pulls both boys in. Last week, I was reading The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt aloud to my seven-year-old, and about half way through, the ten-year-old joined us. He’d been listening, I could tell, because there was no request to turn back or start over. Both boys had had their imagination captured as we read this story set in an “ancient and distant kingdom” in which three great warriors each sought “a worthy challenge” and hoped to prove themselves in “the glory of battle.”
I considered it a victory for the picture book, a subtle reminder of the power of a good story to engage, amuse and provide fodder for conversation.
On Sunday an acquaintance gave us a manila envelope with a spiral bound book inside:
I was a little surprised because we don’t know Mrs. Jass that well, but I was touched that she wanted to share her photo essay with us. The story is told from the perspective of the family’s dog, which makes it engaging for my boys. It includes just enough details about the writer to keep my interest as well.
As we read this book, my boys learned a little about life in the depression, a little bit about keeping a pet, and a little bit about the 88-year-old author, her faith and her family. We also learned a new saying, “If you hoot with the owls at night, you can’t soar with the eagles in the day.”
We were reminded that a well-told story is a gift, so we shouldn’t keep our stories to ourselves.
On Tuesday I was among the pool of jurors who received questioning from the judge for a specific trial set for this week. I was seated in the jury box along with 12 others, behind a row of alternates. We each had to introduce ourselves to the judge. The introduction that struck me the most went something like this, “My name is Bee. I’m 22 years old. I don’t have a job. I don’t want a job. I just wanna be free to live my life. I enjoy sports – football, basketball, running… I work out about three hours a day. I played football for Hamline University, but I dropped out because of too much debt….” He went on to talk about recent fishing trips, and his two dogs.
“How do you feed your dogs if you don’t work?” the judge asked him. I was relieved the judge had said something that might make this boy think, but based on his response, I was afraid the comment was lost on the poor soul.
The incident got me thinking about how parents pass along a value for work. One way is by example. It also helps to assign children responsibilities around the home so that they feel they are contributing members of the family and see first hand how each person contributes for the benefit of all. I also turn to books to reinforce important values.
Last evening we read the book One Hen by Katie Smith Milway. It is an inspiring story of a young boy in Ghana who gets a loan to buy a hen. He sells the extra eggs from the hen and saves the money to buy another hen. After he builds his flock to several hens, he saves money so he can return to school. As we were reading, my son asked if we could get chickens just like the boy and sell them at the market, just like the boy did. At the end, we both enjoyed reading about the real boy whom the story is based on, a boy who was young and struggling when someone gave him a chance.
Perhaps that was Bee’s problem. He’d never had the opportunity to struggle. Everything had been too easy for him. Now, how do I ensure my boys don’t suffer from that same syndrome?
The ability to tell a story well is a foundational pre-reading skill. Here are a few fun ways to help your child develop in this area.
Provide children with costumes, puppets, stuffed toys, action figures or flannel boards for story making. A library we frequent has a wonderful collection of puppets and toys children can use to create their own stories or act out stories they have read. Sometimes we make our own puppets for creative play.
Before reading a book, look at the cover and ask your child what the book will be about. Preview the pictures throughout as well.
While reading, stop at key points and ask, “What do you think is going to happen next?” before turning the page.
Ask your child to retell the story after you have finished reading it. Often this is a good question to ask with favorite books, or at least with books you’ve read several times.
Create a chain story. Several members of the family can play along, if possible, but it even works with two people. Each turn, a person adds one sentence to the story. Make it as silly as you like.
What other story telling games work well with preschoolers?