Sometimes, the book itself becomes the tin-can stilts. There is no great message, no big barn-raising moment. Not even one. These books are funny. They are spirited. They are weird. And all of these things make them the books that are easiest to read, night after night, year after year OUT LOUD to my kids.
You know you’ve got one of these when your seven-year-old peeks around the corner while you are reading, say, Mercy Watson to your five-year-old at bedtime. Maybe she glides over to the bed and does not plop down, but sits down quietly on the floor without fanfare, and holds your five-year-old’s hand. Maybe she looks at you lovingly, never making a peep when you raise your eyebrow over the book at her. Maybe she strokes her brother’s hair.
This is not the pre-pre-(pretty please pre!)-teenager you might have met at dinner. This is not the cartwheeling, Call Me Maybe singing person you have been wishing back into babyhood all day long. This is an old-fashioned seven year old child who knows she is supposed to be in bed reading on her own, who also knows her brother cannot get riled up all over again, and who knows, really knows, a good story when she hears one. She wants in and she’s willing to tip-toe and hand-hold for access to the exclusive reading engagement taking place next door.
Ah! These are the moments we live for, when we’re tired of reading EVERYTHING out loud and want to just get into bed with our own complicated fiction, with a 500 page Franzen. But not now, now we’re all in and at the end of a long day of being a mother and a writer and a housekeeper and a referee and a chauffeur and a mother…it is somehow energizing.
Here is a list of my favorite bedtime romps. I stepped away from the computer at #4. Look for more lists as school gets going
- Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen—all of the Mercy Watson books are funny and all of them have complete and authentic characters like the old ladies Eugenia and Baby Lincoln who live next door and who pepper the pages with their sibling banter and rebellion.
- Lyle, Lyle Crocodile by Bernard Waber—The Upper-East-living, Turkish-caviar-eating, former-traveling-and-entertaining-companion of Hector P. Valenti, star of stage and screen? It does NOT get any better than this, my friends.
- Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner—I dare you to read any Skippyjon Jones book out loud without any accent at all. This imaginative Siamese cat and his chronic identity crisis is funny and wholly original and wholly weird and kids will listen with their brows furrowed and their mouths hanging wide open. ‘Nuff said.
- Charlie and Lola: Whoops! But it Wasn’t Me by Lauren Child—Putting aside that Lauren Child is a genius who writes from the inside of a child’s imagination, what I like about this particular book is the forgiveness. These are good, true siblings who test each other and who care for each other and who get each other. And it’s funny. And again, I dare you not to read it with an accent.