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Monday, July 14, 2014

Bonding through Reading

The fact that reading to kids helps their literacy skills is by no means "news". Surely we all know this already. Sometimes it's those big, well-known facts that parents skip over the most. It's obvious, why spend much time thinking about it? The studies about our addiction to being "busy" aren't surprising either, are they? No wonder we don't sit down to read aloud to our kids much. (I'm sure some parents are GREAT at this... I, however, am not doing it nearly enough.)

Months ago, I'm not even sure when, Joshua and I decided to start reading the Harry Potter series together. I never read the books as a teenager, like all my friends did. When Potter madness was going on, I'm not sure where I was. Having babies? Moving to Kansas? I have no idea. But it seems everyone has read them but me. Jenn and Andrea were always telling me I needed to read them, but I just said, "I'll read them when my kids are old enough to read them." With Josh turning 11,  it was time. I needed something to make him fall in love with reading, and I knew this story would hook him like it had hooked everyone else. Admittedly, I started it with the idea that it was just a silly kids' story, full of ridiculous, made-up words and difficult-to-pronounce names.

I bought whatever copies I could find at my local used book stores, not caring what condition they were in, as long as we could read them. I was reading to all 3 kids when we started, but the younger two (8 and 4) quickly lost interest and wandered away. Josh was enthralled from the beginning, and I started making time to lay with him at night and read for at least half an hour every night. Each night he would beg for "just one more chapter". For a while he was reading ahead of me, and I was having to catch up. For Christmas Santa brought us the new boxed set of Harry Potter books, with all new art work.

Found this picture here

I'm going to tell you the truth, it felt like a chore for a while. The first book was OK, the second book bored me, the third was a little more exciting, but we were getting really busy and missing a lot of reading days. I found myself losing track of the story around this time, simultaneously losing interest. (One of the reasons we were skipping reading days was because I was tired of reading aloud.) Book 4 and 5 were pretty good, but book 6 got GOOD. I didn't want to stop reading. 

However, after five books, I did want to stop reading aloud. Each night when we were reading I was cutting our time shorter and shorter, because each word I read made me yawn and start to fall asleep. One day we were at the library and spotted Harry Potter on CD. I'd looked into buying the books on CD, but they were SO EXPENSIVE. $40 per book was not going to fit in my budget. We were so excited to find them at the library, we picked up the current book and ordered the next one (which you can do from the library's website, btw. When we couldn't finish a set of CDs in time, we just renewed them online).

We have spent countless hours listening to the books, which was awesome because I could do something else while we listened. Jim Dale, who read the books, was amazing. I have no idea how he did all those voices! His extreme talent made the story even more fun to hear. 

After each book, we watched the movie. (I enjoyed the books far more than the movies, but that's true of any movie/book combination for me.) This made it extra fun, because it was like a reward for finishing the book. (Asher, 8, loves the movies, even though he wasn't much interested in the books.)

Now that we have finished the entire series, I can tell you I've been converted. I'm never going to play Quidditch (yeah, people really play the made-up wizard sport) or apply for a spot at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but the writing of J.K. Rowling did manage to astound me. The thing I appreciate most about these books is that JKR did NOT talk down to her readers. She didn't assume they wouldn't understand the story. She knew the #1 rule of writing, which is never insult your readers' intelligence. She knew, even as children, her audience would rise to the task of understanding the story. There were words in these books I'd never heard before. Even I learned a lot in this process, and what my son took away from it is immeasurable. 

Sure, he loved the entertainment value. Yeah, he loved the story and wanted to know how it ended. But ultimately, we both ended up looking forward to the time together more than anything else. I can't imagine a more bonding experience than discovering a great story together, achieving a goal together, falling in love with characters together.

I think the part he loved best was being read to. We spend so much time forcing kids to read aloud, read by themselves, because it's good for them... but even bigger kids need to be read to. Maybe witches and wizards aren't your kid's thing. That's cool, but find out what his or her thing IS. Sit down. Make the time to SIT together and explore something from start to finish. 

You don't have to do it with all of your kids at once. There is probably not time to do this with three or four kids at once... but that's part of the bond. Your child will know you took time out JUST for him. The other kids can listen too, when they want to, but don't miss an opportunity to connect just because they won't all be interested at once. Asher turns 11 in two and a half years. I'm not sure I can wait that long! I can't wait to do it again. 

Leave a comment with your favorite book for kids/preteens so we know what to read next! :) And go pick up a book.


  1. Not necessarily an answer to your question, but Lord of the Rings on CD is gold. It's harder to get through for the modern reader (or so I've heard; most books I read fall into the 'boring' category anyway), but the person who reads it on the CDs is so amazing.

  2. We love Harry Potter! Reading for the about the 10th time, this time with our youngest. We also love Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (library has audiobook on CD), and Rascal by Sterling North (also on CD). Although the Rascal book is short enough that you could probably read it out loud yourself. Neither are series like Harry Potter, but our whole family enjoyed just as much.

  3. I. LOVE. JIM. DALE. The audiobook is how I started with Harry Potter and Jim Dale is the magic that sucked me in. Rowling can really spin a tale as well. I've been big into audiobooks especially through the years where I had a commute to work. Here are a few suggestions.
    Howl's Moving Castle (I found excuses to get in the car and listen.)
    Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin (I think there are good lessons here for kids. And the humor is amusing. I read this one rather than listened, but my friend at book club says the narrator did a good job. It would be a fun (and short) read aloud though.)
    Alcatraz VS the Evil Librarians (I also read this one, but I was told the audio version is fantastic. It's style is very different but really, really fun.)
    Another great audio is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but I don't know if your kids would be ready for it. I laughed myself silly listening to that one.

  4. We love Harry too! My nine year old have started reading a chapter a night each of us reading a page at a time.


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