People often point out, and rightly, that children are in awe of and delighted by things that have become ordinary and everyday to the average adult, so being with a young child opens our eyes again to the mysteriousness, the beauty, and the magic of the world around us. It’s for the same reasons that many of us enjoy reading children’s books again, making our children (or grandchildren) our excuse to re-enter fantastical worlds, like Narnia or Hogwarts or Middle Earth, and laying aside the cynicism and disbelief for a few hours.
Jonah was my ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express all the way through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Twice. (This is a trip I took mostly on my own, as Jonah is too young to read beyond the first three books. They get scary.) And I’ve written quite a bit here of my love of Harry Potter and what a wonderful series it is for children. Kids who read and love and truly comprehend the Harry Potter books will never become bullies.
And yet, believe it or not, there are other children’s books that are well worth reading.
On our trip to California this winter, a friend gave Jonah some wonderful books his kids had outgrown, together with a recording (by Stockard Channing) of Beverly Cleary’s books Bezus and Ramona and Ramona and Her Father. I never read Cleary as a child; I’d never heard of her, in fact, until one of Jonah’s pre-school teachers read the class Ralph S. Mouse and its sequels during rest time. (He loved them.) My own introduction to Cleary’s work has been via these CDs. And they are wonderful.
Bezus (or Beatrice) and her little sister, Ramona, are in many ways ordinary kids from an ordinary family. But Cleary renders them so lifelike and so believable, they might as well be living next door. And Stockard Channing’s reading is fabulous; the voice she gives the rascally little Ramona is hilariously perfect. At moments I could swear the reading had a cast of three or more actors.
Jonah has listened to the stories at least three times so far. I haven’t yet grown tired of them; I love that the things Beezus and Ramona struggle with are everyday concerns. The plots don’t involve aliens, ogres, or international intrigue. They’re funny and heartfelt stories about what happens when a four-year-old invites her friends to a party at her house without telling her mother, for instance, or the strategies a concerned second-grader cooks up to convince her father to quit smoking. When her parents try to soothe her feelings, thinking she’s upset over the pumpkin their cat destroyed, Ramona lies in bed and wonders why they don’t get it.
Didn’t grownups think children worried about anything but jack-’o-lanterns? Didn’t they know children worried about grownups?
A caring parent can’t help read (or hear) this and wonder what her own child worries about. Would he (could he) tell me if he had something so important on his mind?
National Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) Day is not until April 12 (which is also Beverly Cleary’s birthday), but just about every day should have time set aside for books. Reading with Jonah is one of my very favorite ways to spend time with him. Once in a while someone tells me they’re impressed that I read to him nearly every night, and this surprises me. I can’t think of a better way to end the day, to get him settled into bed, and to give me an opportunity to snuggle with him.
And I can’t think of a better excuse for reading children’s books.