Read aloud

I didn’t always love to read as I do now, but I have always loved to be read to. My mom was a natural read-aloud reader. She used inflection and changed her voice for different characters. When I was in elementary school, she read Anne of Green Gables to my sisters and me. I can remember lying under the Christmas tree in the living room, staring up through the lighted branches as she told us about redheaded Anne breaking her slate chalkboard over Gilbert’s head for calling her Carrots. When my mom came to the part where beloved Matthew is dying in Anne’s arms, we all cried silently so we could hear what sweet words Matthew might say to his adopted daughter before he was gone.


In school my teachers would often read a few pages from a book before dismissal or after lunch. Bridge to Terabithia or Tuck Everlasting or Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Sometimes they would ask us to lay our heads on our desks while we listened. More times than I would like to admit, I’d lift my head at the end of her reading to find a drool puddle on my desk where I had become so fully engrossed in the book that I forgot to swallow.


Each time a new Harry Potter book was released, my husband would read it to me in the evenings as I crocheted or folded laundry. Besides the fact that I’m partial to his baritone, it was a great way to spend time together and a multi-tasking technique. It wasn’t until the movies came out that we realized he had been pronouncing many of the British names incorrectly.


When my daughters were 4-years old, I began working my way through the read-aloud chapter books I felt were essential to their education. We started with the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, then we moved on to The Mouse and the Motorcycle and Runaway Ralph. We read through all of the Little House on the Prairie series, deciding after we finished These Happy Golden Years that Laura’s husband Almanzo had figured out romance when he built her a perfect pantry with shelves designed for her ultimate comfort. I was able to relive my childhood while reading through these classics.


I still love to read to kids. I love to see their faces change when I turn a page to something surprising or silly. I love to hear them say, “Don’t stop! Keep reading!” when I finish a chapter or a page. When our youngest son came to us at age 5, he had never been read to. This, plus the fact that he didn’t know English, made me wonder if he’d share our love of books. We were happily surprised when, almost from his first day in our family, he indicated that he wanted to be read to. The simple picture books on the shelf in his room became some of his favorite things. When he didn’t understand the text, he could look at the pictures and decode the story. Often he would point to something on the page and say “What?” (one of his first English words). We would explain it in every way we could think of, even act it out, to let him know what was happening in the story.


Now that he is finishing up kindergarten and starting to read himself, the excitement for books in our house is like this recent stretch of beautiful spring weather. Him sounding out words as he reads the paper books his teacher sends home is like a gentle breeze floating through open windows. And the smile on his face when he’s finished one is pure sunshine.


For lists of the best read aloud books, check out the links below:

Volunteering at the Book Fair

Earlier this month, I volunteered at my son’s elementary school Book Fair. Since I haven’t worked retail in 20 years, this felt like I was playing store. But working the cash register (while narrating my every move: “press taxable sale, scan item, hit okay…”) wasn’t my only volunteer requirement.


When a class came in, we would help them fill out their wish lists. Some kids—namely kindergarteners and first graders—had a hard time differentiating between making a wish list and making a purchase. Sometimes they thought they should be able take the book home once I wrote it down for them even though there had been no cash transaction.


This was just one instance of a series I should call “Kids Don’t Understand Commerce.” For example, one boy brought three books to the cash register and handed me a $20 bill. I scanned his books and gave him his change: $1.64. He was thrilled that he received what looked like more than what he gave me—one piece of paper exchanged for a piece of paper and 7 coins. Before heading back to class, he looked behind me at a display of bookmarks and asked if he could get one of those, too. With tax, the bookmark was 55 cents. I scanned it and asked him to hand me two quarters and one dime. “Why?” he asked as he protectively clutched his handful of change. “Because you have to pay for the bookmark,” I answered. “But I won’t have as much money,” he protested. “That’s what paying for things is, buddy. Hey, I’ll give you a nickel back.” He reluctantly agreed and probably went on to sign up for a credit card with an astronomically high interest rate.


And don’t get me started on sales tax. It’s bad enough that the kids can barely find the tiny price of the books on the back corner, but when it comes to adding sales tax, they look at me like I’m a total scam artist. This was a normal scenario from Book Fair Week:

ME: Here’s the price…$4.99

KID: Good. I have $4.

ME: Well, $4.99 is really $5.

KID: So, I need another dollar?

ME: Actually you need like $1.50 more because of the tax.

KID: Tax?

ME: Yeah, it’s about a 10 cents for every dollar.

KID: Why?

ME: Tax is for…well, we use money collected from taxes for… (reaching in my pocket) here’s some money. Go get your book.


There were some money savvy kids coming through the Book Fair. A couple of sisters came in to shop together. Their mom sent $22, instructing them each to spend $10 with the rest to go for that crazy sales tax. The younger sister brought two books to the counter, totaling $9.98 (before tax) and the older sister brought one book which cost $9.99 (also before tax). Older Sister said, “Go put one of your books back. You can’t have two.” Younger Sister didn’t like that idea. I asked Older Sister what her plans were for the leftover money. “I want to get two books,” she whispered confidentially. Unbeknownst to her I am aware of the wily ways of an older sister, so I instructed Younger Sister to bring her two books to me. I checked her out and she went back to class (grinning triumphantly), leaving Older Sister with her $11 to spend. Older Sister learned not to mess with a Book Fair Volunteer. We don’t play.


I enjoy working at the Book Fair. It’s not because I get to play store and it’s definitely not because I get to do math in my head. I like it because it involves two of my favorite things—kids and books. I like seeing their excitement when they get to buy the book they picked out. I like hearing them tell me about their favorite characters and series and the kinds of books they like the best. Kids and books make for a pretty magical combination.