Reading to the boys

I take a break from writing about books I read by talking about books I read… aloud to the boys.

I like the idea of read-aloud as a family moment and an evening routine to look forward to. Until last fall my two boys (2 and almost 8) had separate sleeping time so I could in theory read to each his own, but now that they go everywhere together (the little one is always on the big one’s footsteps) I “have to” read the same book to both and make it a big bonding time… in theory.

The practice can be a little bumpy depending on everyone’s mood and level of cooperation (the grown-up isn’t always displaying the best behavior). Part of the challenge is that I have an almost 8-going-on-13-year old and a two year old who really wants to understand what’s going on and isn’t afraid to ask for clarifications.

Luckily they are both boys and the small one looks up to whatever the big one does so there are some thematic overlap, but I have been wondering about book choices a lot. And learning about what makes a good book for read-alouds.

Much to the big boy’s sadness Harry Potter is *not* a good choice. It mesmerizes him to the point that he had learnt full sentences by heart, but it can’t hold the little one’s attention for more than a few seconds. The plot is too difficult, the vocabulary above his head and soon every sentence is interrupted with “cekoissa” “kekife?” (“what is that?”, “what’s he doing?”). Then everyone is yelling at each other to shut up and calm down and that defeats the purpose.

I have been reading favorites lately such as Pettson and Picpus, a Swedish series of big picture books of a scatterbrained farmer and his rather stubborn cat, and we all love their goofy and tongue-in-cheek adventures, except that some of the jokes rely on visual cues and I can’t be next to one boy’s bed lest the other one wants to have a look at the very same instant. As the plan is to have them calm and sleepy, I prefer to read in semi darkness.

A recent book that worked like a charm was Michael Palin’ Mirrorstone, a book with wonderful drawings and holograms set within the drawing. The plot was rather sketchy, but there was a boy and a wizard and a treasure to find, and both boys were eager to hear a few pages, and drift off with magic on their minds.

I also tried “Five children and it” (the only E. Nesbit in French that my library had), but the text was rather long-winded and dated and not suited to both boys’ ages. I had to skip whole sentences and read ahead. And the whole setting seemed quite weird to me. But for a few days after I quit, they both still asked for the sand fairy, so I might try again in a few months.

Another success that didn’t repeat itself was Moomin. I got the first one in the series: The Moomins and the Great Flood, and we all enjoyed it quite a lot. Baby S was particularly relieved to see the Moomin family reunited, and I found so sweet when he inquired (rather repeatedly I’m afraid) about Moominmamma. But then I borrowed The memoirs of Moominpapa, and it was a bust. Moominpapa is rather full of himself, and the adventures took a while to really start, and second degree reading is not a thing with eight year old and two year old.

So these days the safest bet is to go back to traditional fairy tales. Each boy takes a different level of meaning from them and I try to focus on structure and storytelling so that we all enjoy this daily time together.

What books do/did you enjoy for read-aloud? Any suggestion?

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9 thoughts on “Reading to the boys

  1. Tricky because of the age differences. I wonder about E. B. White’s Stuart Little (in translation of course) or selected Hans Christian Anderson. Many levels of meaning and the little one would like the animals.

    • They have seen Stuart Little’s movie adaptation but it’s worth a try! Andersen’s tales are often very sad, I’m not sure if they’ll like them. Over here we’re more familiar with Perrault’s or Grimm’s tales. I’ll check what our library has.

  2. We do a chapter of a book every night but it’s easier for me as I have 5 year old twins! We’ve done all of The Magic Faraway Tree series and we’re now barrelling through Roald Dahl.

    • Can you believe that the boys are a bit afraid of Roald Dahl’s stories? I’ll try again later because he’s really a good writer. I never heard of the Magic Faraway Tree, apparently at the library they don’t have anything translated with any similar title.

      • Enid Blyton. The books are The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree and The Folk of the Faraway Tree. We’ve steered clear of the creepier Roald Dahl. Danny the Champion of the World is a really lovely book.

  3. Have you read EB White yet? I loved those books, The Trumpet of the Swan especially, and I think they’d be good for both ages. And maybe, have you read that Monica Furlong book Robin’s Country? It’s about a little boy who ends up joining Robin Hood’s merry men, and I remember really loving it as a kid.

  4. I have a 7 year old girl and a 4 year old boy. And they both insist on having a seperate story read-aloud for each (which makes the whole job twice longer 😉 ). The girl is fond of Roald Dahl and classic stories such as lord Fauntleroy or Comtesse de segur. The small one likes fairy tales full of dragons and magic. Recently we read “les 3 brigands” from Tomi Ungerer and he loved it. We read also The Gruffalo again and again until I couln’t stand it any more.

    • Yes, I remember the 3 Brigands when my older was younger, it was a success! He was obsessed with the Gruffalo too (I knew it by heart, the book wasn’t even necessary). Strangely both books must be in storage because I can’t locate them anywhere anymore!

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