This summer, my son and I conquered a major accomplishment in his reading. We successfully read three full-length classic chapter books together: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis; Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne; and Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.
For the first book, I read as he played. Then, for the others, we’d have quiet time each afternoon and cuddle together as we read. Most frequently, he wouldn’t be very interested and we would only get through a few pages before he’d go to his room for some personal rest time. Some days he let me read for a full half-hour and comment on the stories as I read. He loved finding pictures and figuring out who the people were in them. On bonus days, he’d sometimes fall asleep as I read. We’d talk about the stories throughout the day, me telling him the general outline of the stories as “once upon a time” interludes while he played or sat on the toilet (lots of that these days).
Although he’s gotten tired of the lengthy books, I think reading them to him helped him learn that stories continue. Fantasy is inexhaustible, and the imagination can go anywhere, even flying through the sky or into another world simply by entering a closet. Further, he learned we can continue hearing about beloved characters over weeks and months (Peter Pan took a very long time to read!).
Raisin* turns three next week, and I am really enjoying watching him blossom into an imaginative child. In the past few weeks, during which we haven’t been reading any full-length novels, he’s been consistently reading his favorite picture books by himself because he knows he can retell the familiar stories. He is always asking “tell me a story!” and he loves to pretend. He has new imaginary friends every day, and they play games with him and tell him things, things that I then get to hear.
At any rate, I’m sure you believe me when I saw that Raisin is a cute kid. I’ll stop. Here are some thoughts on the novels we read together. Some were good selections for a toddler. One, not so much. I don’t regret the books we read together, though. It was a good summer.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The first book I read aloud was The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I loved the memories I have of my mother reading me this book, so I thought it was time to introduce my son to Lewis’ magical world. He played as I read, and he liked it when there were pictures. (I have a small, mass market paperback with black and white illustrations.) I would refresh his memory when I sat to read. (“Remember, they are having dinner with the Beavers.” “Remember, the white witch is bad. Do you think she is being nice to Edmond?”)
After we finished the book (in about two weeks of reading-while-he-played), we watched the Disney movie in half-hour increments. He was a bit scared in places. I found the movie (which I love) to be more violent than the book, especially since in the book most of the battle scenes are not described in detail and most of the last half hour of the movie is the battle scenes. But, this also made the story a bit more interesting. In the book, the girls have very unimportant roles, and I dislike how Aslan always has to prompt them to action. The movie is very well done in general, and I admit I do like the changes that have been made.
Here is my conversation with Raisin, aged 2 years, 8 months, about this book:
What did you like best about The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe?
Why did you like Aslan?
Because I love him.
Why do you love him? Because he’s a lion? [My son likes to roar.]
Who did you like best: Lucy, Susan, Peter, or Edmund?
Because she’s a girl.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
I’ve now read Raisin Winnie-the-Pooh three times. The first time he was about four months old. The second time was last summer. This time he loved looking at the pictures as we read. I think he really enjoyed the stories too, but now the movie is so familiar to him, I wonder if some of the magic of the written story is already disappearing. We’ve started reading The House at Pooh Corner but his patience for long chapter books is disappearing as he becomes more and more engaged in “reading” picture books by himself.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
When I was in sixth grade, I broke my elbow and had to sit out physical education class for at least a month. I was reassigned to the library for that hour of the day for a type of “study hall” with the librarian’s supervision. Well, knowing my reading habits today, you may not be surprised to know that I loved my personal library time. Most days, no one was in there. I would browse the stacks and I became well acquainted with the fiction section.
The shelf next to my assigned table had a copy of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan on the very end of the top shelf. I can still picture where I sat in the library, and I can still remember the red binding of Peter Pan calling to me from the end of the top row. Every day, during my library “banishment,” I would sit and read a few pages or chapters. Then, when the hour was up, I’d return it to its position. I don’t know why I didn’t just check it out, but for eleven-year-old me, it was like a secret book.
I don’t remember how many times I read Peter Pan that year. When I finished it, I know I started it again. At some point I must have checked it out. At any rate, it was a favorite book for me. When I was in high school and I got to act in the play (I was one of the lost boys), it continued to be a special work for me. I still can’t think of Captain Hook without thinking of my classmate Ricky.
So I was very excited to reread it, and this time to my son.
I cannot express how much Raisin loved reading this book with me, and I promise it was not the book. The novel is (can I say it?) rather odd. Barrie’s prose is rather convoluted at times, and the book’s confusing structure and lack of normal plot progression doesn’t read like a children’s book at all, in my opinion. Barrie would sometimes focus on the events as they are happening and other times go to flashbacks or seemingly unrelated digressions. There was lots of description of settings and people outside of the action. It’s not that the book was bad (there were moments I fell in love with the clever story all over again) but this is not a children’s fiction novel for an almost three-year-old. There’s a reason I liked it when I was eleven.
I honestly don’t think my son understood it at all as I read. We’d read one page, then I’d tell him the exciting parts. The next day, I’d remind him of the exciting parts, of the characters, and so forth, and then I’d read one page, summarizing at the end again. It was rather tiresome, and I often wanted to keep reading long past my son’s attention span just because I wanted to actually make progress on the book. Once again, let me reiterate: this was not a good novel for reading aloud to a toddler.
Nonetheless, Raisin loved Peter Pan. He loved the boy as I described him, I think. He loved the crocodile that swallowed a clock and tic-tocked. He loved Wendy whenever I mentioned her (“Wendy!” he’d exclaim, echoing the name after I read it). Beyond that, I think this was the story that helped him fall in love with the “Once Upon a Time” of stories. There was once upon a time a boy that never grew up, and that opened the world up to one special toddler. I don’t know that he even comprehended the concept of never growing up, but he loved it all the same. We also watched the Disney movie together but he didn’t seem as enthralled by that as by our reading aloud time. This is a book for which he wanted to hear the story coming from me.
I should mention that I still love Peter Pan. I can’t help it. Amateur Reader recently wrote a few posts about the play version of Peter Pan – and how scary Peter was in that (I admit, I too always found Hook a laughingstock, but I always thought that was because I picture my friend Ricky acting as Hook). Despite Amateur Reader’s very appropriate criticisms and despite the fact that reading Peter Pan aloud to a two-year-old was a pretty bad experience, I still love the imagination of the story.
In some ways, reading Peter Pan aloud to Raisin was still delightful. I have helped him to see a new world of imagination, and he obviously loves read-aloud time with me no matter what book it is.
I think that spells a successful summer.
*I’ve affectionately renamed my son Raisin for the purposes of blogging. He sometimes calls himself Raisin, for some reason, so it works for both of us.