March 3, 2015

Reading Aloud Again

        Tomorrow is World Read Aloud Day, and I certainly can’t let that go by without notice.  I will, of course, be reading aloud to P and T, as I do every evening that I’m home.  Our read-aloud book at the moment is Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.  It’s an epistolary novel consisting of the correspondence of two young ladies, cousins and best friends, one of whom is in London for her first Season, and the other remaining at the country manor.  Imagine Jane Austen in an alternate reality with magic and you’ll have the picture.  It’s nothing deep, but it is charming and a lot of fun.  This isn’t a new book for me, and indeed T had read it before on her own, as well, although so long ago that she no longer remembers much about it.  I confess that I hadn’t suggested reading it aloud before because I thought it might be too girly to appeal to P, who states that he has no interest in romance, of which this book has a fair amount.  Our heroes, Cecelia and Kate, are pretty interested in fashion, too, while P’s idea of fashion is to wear the same increasingly shabby red sweatshirt every single day of his life.  But, as usual when making assumptions,  it seems that I wasn’t giving enough credit to P or to Wrede and Stevermer.  The magical mystery and adventure are plenty to keep both my children engaged, and both Kate and Cecy are smart, energetic, and likeable.  When we finish the book we’ll see whether P (and T) have enjoyed it enough to want to continue to the next book in the series (there are three), but so far, at least, this book is going over well.  And on a final note, it’s actually a pretty good candidate for reading aloud, because while the reading level is solidly middle grade, the historical setting and vocabulary mean that sometimes it’s nice that I can explain things as we go along.
        I also want to mention another book that I read aloud this week to an audience including people of all ages from a baby through elderly retirees.  It isn’t fantasy - indeed, it’s autobiographical - but it’s potentially mind-, heart-, and world-changing in just the ways I look for in the best fantasy.  It isn’t illustrated with block prints, either, but with wonderfully expressive, sympathetic full-color paintings.  But while it’s neither block printing nor juvenile fantasy, it is a beautiful book to read aloud with anyone.  It’s Desmond and the Very Mean Word, and tells an incident from the childhood of Desmond Tutu.  When some boys hurt him, Desmond tries running away, then he tries striking back, and finally he tries reconciliation.  It’s lovely - and on Sunday even a pair of squabbling siblings in my audience got the message!  Yes, books have power, and yes, their power is often amplified by reading aloud.  So pick a good book, find someone to share it with, and read aloud!

[Pictures: A Masquerade, woodcut by Joan Hassall, from Jack & Alice by Jane Austen, 1957-62 (Image and story at;
Desmond’s new bike, painting by A.G. Ford, from Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, 2012.]

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