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    Books & Reading, Other Thoughts

    Andy Catlett and Reading Aloud

    June 14, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    Last night, I enjoyed Rikki Tikki Tavi with my little girls. I read this over and over to my oldest when he was about five, but I guess it had gotten buried somewhere in the library. When A-Age-Seven brought it out last night, it was as if I’d never read it before; only E-Age-Ten remembered it. They were all enraptured.

    It was a much better ending to the day than being angry at a goat for stepping in the milk bucket during the evening milking.

    But I digress.

    Wendell Berry teaches us about so much in such simple ways: coming of age, reading aloud, the voice of the mother, the growth of the boy.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about reading aloud lately as I have realized that this is something that provided a very strong bond between myself and my oldest child, which I didn’t really expect. I never set out thinking that I would read to my child as some sort of bonding activity. But apparently this tied a whole bunch of heart strings while we were just enjoying good stories together. I am so glad for this because now, at the ripe age of ten, I can still spend lots of time with him if I have a book in my hand.

    And the littles, of course, clamor onto my lap with their books. I’m trying to read lots of picture books this summer as they sometime fall by the wayside when I’m trying to read things that satisfy everyone in the family at the same time.

    I found myself wondering if Wendell Berry’s mother spent much time reading to him. He seems to understand its power:

    And then I opened my book and studied it. I looked at the print, but my mind, like a dull blade, glanced off. It would not bite in, for the English of those pages was old-fashioned; it was strange to everything I knew. When my mother had started reading it to me on Christmas night and the nights following, I had understood it and been charmed by it but hearing received it more readily than sight, and she had given me the explanations I needed. And so when I opened the book, unable as I felt to read it for myself, I let into the quiet of the room the memory of my mother’s voice reading, which was a comfort to me then as it is now. Besides, the book contained full-page illustrations in which the knights wore armor made of metal as brilliant almost as sunlight and the horses were as fierce and beautiful as dream horses come alive. These were to me then almost endlessly worthy of study. And from the opened pages rose then as now, for I still have the book, the sound of my mother’s voice reading quietly and yet urgently, as if anticipating all that was to follow: “It befell in the days of the noble Uther-pendragon, when he was King of England, that there was born to him a son who in after time was King Arthur.”

    In this (wonderful, of course) work by Berry, Andy is a little boy visiting his grandparents. There is a bit of coming of age involved, as he is traveling alone for the first time and fancies himself growing up because of it. I think that Berry illustrates this growing up best not by the traveling, but by the increase in reading ability, by beginning with Andy unable to read King Arthur by himself. Later, Andy has come to be able to read it:

    I read the funnies, and then returned to The Boy’s King Arthur. I opened it to the beginning. I looked at the words and I could hear my mother’s voice reading them, and so as I looked from word to word I too was reading them:

    And when the first mass was done there was seen in the churchyard, against the high altar, a great stone four-square, like to a marble stone, and in the midst thereof was an anvil of steel, a foot of height, and therein stuck a fair sword naked by the point, and letters of gold were written about the sword that said thus: Who so pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is right-wise king born of England.

    I didn’t know what a mass was, but it didn’t seem to matter much. I knew very well what an anvil was, but I couldn’t figure out the need for an anvil and a stone. I thought either one would have been plenty.

    But I was reading, and it was my mother’s voice that was sounding in my mind as I read.

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    5 Comments

  • Reply The Power of a Story | Afterthoughts January 23, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    […] is why, a long time ago, I wrote about reading aloud building a family culture, tying heart strings between a mother and a child. It’s a powerful thing. When the story captures the imagination of more than one child in a […]

  • Reply Ellen June 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Your kids might like this National Geographic clip… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdg9gkmWsEA.
    The narrator ends with “Rudyard Kipling would be proud.” =)

  • Reply Ellen June 15, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks for suggesting Rikki Tikki Tavi. I was headed by the library last night anyway, and I hunted up a copy. I read it to both Seth (5), and Evan (3), and they were spellbound. Evan asked a few questions, but that was it. I was surprised that he could sit through a book that long. He just turned 3 less than a month ago.

    I’ve finally found the readings broken down by weeks on Ambleside online. It’s like I just figured out the missing piece of the puzzle. All I’d ever seen before was just lists of books. I have my plan for kindergarten, but I am going to talk to a friend and neighbor who did year 1 last year and look at her books sometime soon for ideas…

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      I’m so glad your boys enjoyed it! I really had forgotten how wonderful it is.

      re: Ambleside: without the weekly schedule, it would be impossible! I’m glad you found it! And how wonderful to have a neighbor with books you can actually look at and touch. That makes such a big difference. 🙂

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