A special guest post from Pamela Voelkel
For me as a child in England, reading was a solitary pleasure. It took me where I wanted to be, which was away from my family. We didn’t have many books in the house, just a guide to window-dressing, an anthology of animal stories, a children’s atlas and a book of 365 stories sent over by my aunt in California (which gave me my lifelong obsession with galoshes, both the word and the overshoe concept).
My grandparents had a big old glass-fronted bookcase, filled with beautifully bound classics like Dickens, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, Little Women and the Angela Brazil schoolgirl stories. I ploughed manfully through them all, loving the feel of the books and the way the illustrations were called “plates”, and the gold type on their spines, even when I didn’t love the stories. After my grandparents died, the bookcase was sold and I cried for it. As surely as Professor Diggory’s wardrobe led to Narnia, that bookcase had been my door to another world. So I never associated reading with togetherness or cosiness; for me, it was about escape.
Then I grew up, got married, and had a baby who didn’t sleep for the first five years. Reading with him was the only thing that kept me sane, and soon we’d amassed a huge library of picture books, many of them about diggers and bulldozers. Two more children followed, girls this time, and the books acquired a pinker, more glittery tinge. But everyone agreed on the family favorites: The Owl Babies, The Runaway Beard, Dinosaur Bob, The Cats of Mrs Calamari, Arnie the Doughnut, and Mr Popper’s Penguins.
Bedtime reading was my favorite part of the day and I dreaded the time when the kids would grow out of it.
But guess what? At seventeen and fourteen, our oldest kids are still not too old for a book at bedtime. Sure, they often have too much homework or better things to do. But when we can, we prop up the pillows and read together as lovely lazy luxury.
Of course, my husband and son dive into Bernard Cornwell or Philip Reeve instead of books about diggers. Our older daughter has long abandoned fairytale princesses in favor of the harsh realities of Suzanne Collins and Laurie Halse Anderson. (Sometimes, if the realities are too uncomfortably harsh, we read them separately and talk about them at bedtime.) But the pleasures of reading aloud are the same as they always were.
And that’s been the revelation for me.
That no matter how frenzied the day nor how snarky the dinner conversation, books bring us together again. Today, instead of loving books for letting me escape as I did as a child, I love them for grounding me in the precious here and now. Books begin new conversations with my kids, they give us shared ground, and they open the way for sleepy confidences that would never be aired in the bright light of morning.
Pamela Voelkel is one half of the writing duo behind The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld and The Jaguar Stones, Book Two: The End of the World Club