An essay on the pleasures of reading aloud

AN ESSAY ON THE PLEASURES OF

READING ALOUD

by

Maureen Ryan Griffin

 

My children and I visited our friends Melinda and Doug the other night. Their Meredith, who’s not quite two, kept us all entertained by toting Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham back and forth between laps – mainly her dad’s and my daughter Amanda’s.

“Would you eat them in a house?” Amanda obligingly read, and Meredith’s head went up and down.

“Would you eat them with a mouse?”

“NO!”

My son, Dan, with one of his favorite books, circa 1993

My son, Dan, with one of his favorite books, circa 1993

I couldn’t resist – when Meredith dropped the book to follow her mom upstairs, I picked it up and began reading it to my son, Dan, who, though he’s eleven now, was kind enough to tolerate this without too much eye-rolling.

“That Sam I Am! That Sam I Am!” My voice remembered where to put all the inflections, and Dan was two again, three, four…

Melinda smiled as she came back down the stairs. “You should have seen my brother and me – two adults! – fighting over who got the Dr. Seuss books.”

I understood. There’s not much I love more than reading my childhood favorites to my kids.  Or reading with them, flipping pages side by side in the lamplight.

 

Books have given us some of our best moments. Amanda’s in high school now, but I remember how much we both laughed at my carrying her up the stairs when she was a tall-for-her-age nine-year-old. We’d just read a chapter of Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins in which Uncle Alex tells Rose she’s been “mollycoddled.”  “What’s mollycoddled?” Amanda had asked, and I was showing her, bodily.

My daughter, Amanda, reading "Good Night Moon" circa 1989

My daughter, Amanda, reading “Good Night Moon”

“Mollycoddled,” Amanda repeated. “I’m being pollywaddled!” From mollycoddled to pollywaddled; this is as luscious in the mouth as fresh raspberries.

Reading aloud is an encounter with the sheer pleasure of language – surely one reason Meredith, like so many of us, is entranced with Green Eggs and Ham.

And what could be better than introducing a child you love to dear friends who, miraculously, are still the same age they were when you first met them? That’s what happened this past summer when I read Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays to Dan. New York City in the 1940’s came alive for him, as it once did for me, through a boy named Rush Melendy who likes music and machinery and dogs, not necessarily in that order.

I’d forgotten how much I liked Rush and his sister Randy, who loved to feel “mud soft as butter” between her toes and who noted, at an art gallery, that “if she looked at a picture long enough [she] could make it come alive sometimes.”  Would I have discovered these same delights without Randy pointing them out? I’m not so sure. Rereading this book years later, it’s clear how much it and so many others pointed the way to the person I am today.

And to think it all started with my mother reading aloud to me. I can still hear her voice delighting in Ogden Nash’s “Belinda lived in a little white house, With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse, And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon, And a realio trulio little pet dragon.”

How lucky we are – my children and I, Meredith and her parents – those of us who have been read to, and those of us who do the reading. Realio, trulio. There’s nothing like it.

~ Maureen Ryan Griffin

This essay aired as a commentary on WFAE 90.7, Charlotte, NC