I have not always loved to read, but I have always loved stories. When I was young, I cherished read alouds. When my teachers gathered us on the classroom carpet, or when my father read aloud in a tired voice next to our bunk beds, I hung on every word. It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I began to pick up books on my own. So, for the first 16 years of my life, I relied on read alouds to sustain my love of stories.
My wife Michelle and I read aloud to our children before they were born. I can still see Michelle in our rocking chair, one hand holding a Winnie the Pooh Treasury, the other resting on her round belly. For years, our whole family gathered at bedtime to read William Steig, Maurice Sendak, Cynthia Rylant, Arnold Lobel, Kate DiCamillo, Louis Sachar, and J.K. Rowling. I perfected the art of reading aloud while half asleep. When my eyelids began to fall, along with my copy of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Nathan, Maddie or Michelle would elbow me in the side, and say, “Not yet. You need to finish the chapter!”
We kept a list of titles we’d read together in the back of one of my journals. I still have it. It is a long list.
As Nathan and Maddie grew older, we broke our habit of daily read alouds. Nathan grew restless and preferred to read on his own time, or not at all, while Maddie and I had a special connection with Kate DiCamillo’s writing. Everything Kate wrote made us laugh, cry, wonder, and ask questions. We continued to read aloud every new book she published. After reading Flora and Ulysses, Maddie wrote a letter to Kate, and two weeks later, received a handwritten postcard from the author. She still has the framed postcard on her nightstand. But when Maddie became a teenager, we only read together sporadically.
I still annoy her with not-so-gentle, guilt-inducing nudges like, “Hey, remember me? I’m Dad. We used to read aloud together almost every night.” Occasionally, she will indulge me and we chip away at one of Kate’s new books. What used to take us a few weeks to finish now takes a year. I had all but given up on our read alouds before the pandemic.
But, with all this time on our hands, I thought I’d give it one more shot, and I’m glad I did.
Maddie and I started reading Louisiana’s Way Home when it released in 2018. It’s not a long book, but we only picked it up once a month, so I suppose you could say we’d been taking little sips of Kate DiCamillo’s magic for two years. Somehow, no matter how long we had gone between readings, Maddie knew exactly what was happening when we’d stopped. And yesterday, around lunchtime, we decided we’d read together for the first time in months. It turned into a family moment.
I plopped down on her bed, stuffed a hundred pillows behind my head and back, and started to read. Maddie giggled like she always has at the quirky characters and witty writing. We finished a chapter, and I asked if she wanted to keep going. “How many pages are left?” she asked.
“Only fifteen,” I said.
“Let’s finish it!” she said, the excitement in her voice reminding me of her six-year-old self. Just as I started to read the final chapter, her 15-year-old brother wandered into the room and collapsed at the foot of the bed, pretending to fall back asleep. He stayed there.
Next, my wife stuck her head in and said, “What’s this?”
“We are finishing a book,” said Maddie, “Join us!”
And we were all together, sharing a read aloud, maybe for the final time.
It didn’t last long; despite protests from all of us, Nathan left the room and Michelle followed shortly after. So, Maddie and I finished the book alone. I’ve read enough of Kate DiCamillo’s books to know that I have to fight to get through her final words without choking up. This one was no exception. When I closed the book, Maddie said, “That was really good.”
“Of course it was,” I said. “There’s one more in the series. Should I order it? Do you think we will actually read it together?”
“Yes and yes,” said Maddie.
It’s scheduled to arrive on Thursday and I can hardly wait. Even if it takes 10 years to finish the next book, I’ll look forward to every word on every page.