It probably started when I was a little girl first learning to read Amelia Bedelia. I was older by my sister by 3 years and so had a great advantage over her in that I could read ‘real books.’ I would read “Geraldine’s Big Snow”, “Kidderminster Kingdom Tales“, and “Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day” to her because I loved to read all the expressive words.
Little Sister eventually learned to read, but somehow reading aloud didn’t stop. We got older and I discovered Nancy Drew. I’d read a whole mystery out loud for us on a rainy Saturday afternoon. We’d pitch my pup tent out in the backyard during the summer and we excitedly devoured Frank Peretti’s Cooper Kid mysteries. Then we got older and it was the Father Brown mysteries I got for Christmas one year (I think S. just wanted to hear my unrealistic British accent more than anything!).
When we were in our late teens/early twenties, our family went through a long moving ordeal during which we forwent a tv for a while. Ever since we were small, S. and I had learned the skill of being our own entertainment. So, in the evenings we sat in the living room and I read Agatha Christie mysteries (Why Didn’t They Ask Evans and The Body in the Library among others).
There is something memorable and delightfully homespun about reading out loud in a family setting. Yes, it does feel a bit awkward at first, especially if you don’t view your family as anything particularly resembling The Waltons. To be honest, to this day I don’t feel completely comfortable reading in for a live audience. Being an introvert causes an internal self-critic to warn me against letting myself go “too much or I’ll feel stupid.” I feel ridiculous trying to put on voices or accents, I fear mispronouncing a word, I hate reading the kissy scenes, and on and on. I don’t read perfectly. But you know what? Looking back, I have all of these wonderful memories of reading to my Mom and sister when we were still all living together. Families change as the years go by, but remembering that we did something other than watch the latest Law and Order: CI episode makes me feel like maybe we did have our Walton moments. It sort of gives me a cozy, reminiscent feeling that is precious.
It is rare in this day and age. It’s much easier when you start young or start when you’re kids are young. Reading books to kids at bedtime never grows out of date. Can you remember a parent, grandparent, older sibling or someone who read you bedtime stories? I think we’ll realize if we ponder long enough that it wasn’t the story so much that we loved the most. We’d heard that Peter Rabbit story so many times we had it memorized! No, it was the person who was reading it to us that mattered. Hearing the voice that cared so much about us that they spent the time to read out loud, no matter how tired they themselves were. It was hearing the excitement in their voice as they enjoyed the story right along with us. It was like that moment of time was the only thing of importance, and nothing else existed outside of experiencing the story together with someone else. This wasn’t something that could be tangibly felt or put into words at the time, but looking back you see how precious that was.
We have the opportunity to pass along the same kinds of memories! The big secret is that bedtime stories aren’t just for the kids. Adults love them just as much. Timeless stories that stand the test of time, like fairy tales or E. Nesbit. We can enjoy exploring those story worlds with the next generation.
But reading aloud doesn’t have to be only for children. Aging parents, grandparents, the bedridden or anyone who has ears to hear can enjoy being read to. The unspoken message is that is says someone cares enough to spend time sharing a story with someone else. You might be in a phase where there isn’t much else to talk about with each other, but you can connect through a story. In a safe, loving atmosphere, gradually stepping out to read to the people you love can boost self-confidence. When you hear that first word of encouragement, that first positive laugh over the way you read a humorous line, that “Stop that! You’re scaring me!” …you will bless yourself for taking up the idea of trying! Affirmation can make one feel like they can do anything!
Reading aloud is a constructive, imaginative, and creative art. Edith Schaeffer, in her book “The Hidden Art of Homemaking” suggests it as an outlet for acting. She says that if you’re a person who had always dreamed of being an actor but never had or took the opportunity, reading out loud to the people nearest you will give you a feeling of fulfillment.
You can be creative about this. How about reading to each other for a romantic date idea? I knew of someone who read “Anne of Green Gables” to her college dorm mates on weeknights while they pampered themselves in the bathroom. Perhaps you’re one of those lucky people who can read during long car rides without getting motion sick. Read about the sights you’ll be seeing, the history of the places you’ll be going. When my sister and I were homeschooled, Mom read the history of Genghis Kahn while us girls shelled peas. My grandma and grandpa started up their church’s library and personally read every book they entered into their card catalog system. In this way they discovered The Mitford Series, by Jan Karon which they took turns reading aloud to each other. One summer when I came down with poison ivy really bad, my mom read Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains while I soaked in a ginger bath. My friend’s mom refused to let her children see the Lord of the Rings until the had completed the trilogy together as a family. Their goal was to read each book before they hit the theater.
Antsy listeners who can’t keep still while being read to can enjoy the story just as well (or even better) when they have a quiet activity like putting together a puzzle, working on crafts, building models, etc. Children might want to act the stories out with their stuffed animals as they are listening. I always listened to a good story with a blanket thrown over my head to block out all distractions. There is no right or wrong way of doing this.
If you’re still shy about trying this, there are other ways to enjoy reading aloud to others without the live audience. Librivox.org is a wonderful way to read in community! I once recorded a set of children’s books on audio cassette for some children whose mother didn’t have time to read to them. It’s a great way to start out and practice at, before offering to read with others physically present.
It requires commitment to complete a story, making time out of everyone’s schedules, patience and courage, but whatever you do, don’t let life slip by without discovering this wonderful pastime!