The other day I was riding along in the car with the girls. My Garmin, friendly little device that it is, popped up a little reminder. Apparently my map needed to be updated. Thanks for that, Garmin. I found myself saying, not entirely under my breath, “My map is old, my teeth are gold. I have a bird I like to hold.”
Ellie and Lorelei took up the refrain, and started to giggle. “Hey mama– that rhymes,” Lorelei snorted in between chuckles. “Uh, mom? What’s wrong with you?” Ellie asked. Her tone was serious. Somehow it shook me back to reality. Uh, what was wrong with me? The words that had just come out of my mouth in the same strange, permanent, parental haze that most of my words do were actually a bit of a surprise even to me. “Well, Ellie,” I replied, “Apparently I’ve had a lobotomy performed by the good Dr. Seuss.” “What’s a… a… lobotomy?” they piped up in tandem. And that’s when I knew that not only was my over-sharing parent award totally in the bag for 2014, but that it was also maybe time to change the topic. “It just means that we’ve read too many rhyming books lately,” was my final answer.
And it got me thinking– this whole reading to kids thing– is there some recipe? Is it like shoes where you just pick something in the correct size and you’re good to go? Bad metaphor, I know– because, like, what exactly is the orthopedic shoe of literature? And also? Someone get me that book because it sounds comfy as all get out.
It’s so fun to peruse guides for different ages, but in my experience it’s so much more… I don’t know… fluid. One minute I will be struggling to get through a book with Lorelei that averages five words per page, and the next minute she’ll hand me something to read that is practically Ulysses by comparison and sit patiently through the whole thing. I am shocked all the time at what the girls like. And equally at what they don’t. If you want a really sketchy, but very apt, comparison, books are a little like my pants. Sometimes I want ones that are fuzzy and shapeless and warm. Sometimes I want ones that fit just right. Sometimes I want ones that actually make me look like I own a mirror (I do, I promise. It’s, uh… well, somewhere in my bedroom. I think.), and sometimes I want ones that are maybe just a little tight. You know, just to prove I can still fit into them.
Here are a few things we do to help ourselves find great books that fit us in all the ways that work.
1. If you are not already at the point where you can sleep-order from Amazon, you might want to start training. I swear on my thesaurus that this is a thing of great beauty. Type in the name of a book your child likes. Dozens of other titles will pop up. See one that looks good? Pop on over to the library and check it out. If your child loves it, you can go back to Amazon and buy one used if you feel the desire. We’ve been really satisfied with the used books we’ve purchased, and it’s kinda like just getting to keep the library book forever. Literally– many are old library copies that have been sent out to pasture and most are in awesome condition. If you want something seriously unspoiled, just check the description. I’ve always found them to be spot-on. If you are scared of Amazon’s mini-drones (and, let’s face it; who isn’t?) and do not want to hasten the speed at which they achieve earth-wide domination, you can also check out goodreads.com for a similar search function. Honestly, the search on goodreads is a little more intelligent in terms of matching like with like and not just things that got lumped together based on gajillions of search preferences. Then you can order your used books from another online book retailer and know that you are saving the planet– one book at a time.
2. Order ahead. Our average library trip sends us home with at least 25 books for Lorelei. Less for Ellie, because she’s gotten to be really great about knowing her tastes and her books (ones she reads to herself as well as ones we will read aloud to her) tend to be longer. Also a half-dozen for us adults. That’s a lot of books. Lorelei may have turned into a kid who loves books and reading, but she is still one of the busiest girls I know. The last time we were at the library she discovered the Kick-Step. Those little, round stools that are all over libraries for reaching books so you don’t give yourself a back injury or cause a land-slide? Before you know it, she had two stacked on top of one another and was climbing to the top preparing to do a perfectly executed swan dive. “Oh,” said the librarian. “I’ve never actually seen anyone do that before.” Just so you can form a more complete mental picture, we will just say that the look on her face was more, “Your child is making me want to take an early retirement,” and less, “What an innovative and physically precocious child you have there!” My attention had been diverted for exactly as long as it took for me to remove one book from the shelf. Then there was the time she snatched a newspaper from an elderly gentleman and her, “What’s that?” was lost in a gush of self-generated wind as she ran to the other end of the library. No, silly; not to find out what it was. To try to shred it. Duh. So I have learned that the library is better enjoyed by everyone, and much, much less expensive, when I simply request most of the books I want via inter-library loan. We can just pick them up when we’re ready to check out. It leaves our library outings a lot more relaxed. And, also, I don’t worry anymore about seeing pictures of Lorelei with the, “No,” symbol over her head on the glass front doors. I guess it’s probably good that she usually moves too fast for a decent mug-shot anyway.
3. Age recommendations are a very loose guide. Obviously use your judgment, but just because a book says that it is for ages 1-3 or 6-9 does not mean that it has to be taken literally. Ellie enjoys quite a few of Lorelei’s books. Even some board books. Lorelei has basically usurped Ellie’s Zoobooks subscription. I would never have imagined it. There’s tons of text on every page, and some of the illustrations are downright scary. But she adores those things and has much of them memorized by the time the newest one shows up in our mailbox. Ellie has sometimes been interested in things that Mr. T and I are reading, and assuming it’s not something that would get an MA warning slapped on it, we will often share tidbits (or more) to satisfy her curiosity. Generally speaking, each girl usually has a mix of books that are a little on the easy side (but still way fun), just exactly right, and a bit of a stretch. Just like we don’t read when we don’t feel like it, and we don’t keep reading something that makes us want to take a Barbie stiletto to our eyeballs, we read to the girls when they’d like (assuming it’s possible), and read what they enjoy. Don’t pass up that excellent train book just because your particular train-lover happens to be 2 instead of 4. Give it a try– she’ll let you know if it’s not working for her.
4. It’s hard to say goodbye to new friends. Because most of the new books we encounter are temporary visitors at our house, I will usually use my tablet to snap a quick picture of the books each girl really loved before we return them. I save them as picture notes in Catch, but you can store them in whatever way works for you. It’s really nice to have an easy way to refer to what books would make nice gifts, and is a handy reference if we ever want to check them out from the library another time.
Here’s a sample reading list for each of the girls so you can see a little better what I mean.
Lorelei: (easy) – Peedie (Gossie and Friends) by Olivier Dunrea
(just right) Ella Takes the Cake by Carmela D’Amico
(stretch) Kinderkittens Show and Tell by Stephanie Calmenson
Ellie (these are for reading to herself):
(just right) Junie B. First Grader: Toothless Wonder
(stretch) Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings by Shel Silverstein
Her categories for books read to her would be fairly similar, with the exception that she can understand pretty much anything that is read to her at this stage. Having plenty of experiences hearing people reading with fluency helps her develop as a reader, and is a great way for us to connect. In our experience, when we read to her she lets her guard down and we quite often end up having such wonderful discussions. She’s much more likely to want to snuggle when there are books involved, too, so I jump at any chance I get to read to her.
What are some ways you make reading better at your house?