Magical Library: What is your first memory of being read to/reading on your own/ or books in general?
Patty: I LOVED books when I was little. I was not a sleeper, so the deal with my mom was I could read quietly in my room in lieu of a nap, which was a great deal as far as I was concerned. I didn't have to sleep, I was left alone. I was not read to as a child, except at school. The one attempt I remember my mom making was to read me a Peanuts comic strip and it STILL makes me laugh, nearly 50 year later. Without showing me the pictures, she read, with no passion or emphasis whatsoever, "Click click click click. Click click click click. Click click click click. Toenails." Um, what? Demanding to see the visuals, it made sense. The clicking was taking place out of the frame, and at last Snoopy passed Linus and Charlie Brown, who explained that toenails were the source of the clicking. Even as a kid I knew that was my mom's best effort, and I never asked her to read to me again. She's never been much of a reader and as an adult I recognize she has some comprehension issues, so it's not her fault. What she lacked in passion and excitement for reading was more than made up for much later by my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Sisk. Every day after recess, she'd read to our class of forty, to settle us down and cool us off after lunch recess. Danny, Champion of the World, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Sheila the Great, James and the Giant Peach. These became books I would read ad nauseum. James and the Giant Peach was the first chapter book I read to my little sister, and it was the first chapter book she read to her own kids. For years, when I learned a friend was pregnant, I would make a care package of ginger peach tea, peach lotion, and a copy of James and the Giant Peach. I really felt there was no better adventure and loved the idea of passing on my love for the book.
ML:. How old were your kids when you started to read to them? What were some first books that you chose?
Patty: I read to my kids when they were infants. At the grocery store I would read the packaging or the ads. I pointed out signs. At each bedtime or nap time, I'd read three books. We started with cloth or board books that had textures or taught sight words, and when they were old enough they could make the selections. Aidan was a huge fan of Thomas the Tank Engine, so we read many adventures about horrid lorries and trains that felt put out. If I was lucky we'd be on a streak of different stories starring some favorite characters: Henry and Mudge, Frog and Toad. Some days, weeks, months we'd read Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel until I wanted to toss it out the window or conveniently leave it on the train.
ML: What was your experience of reading to your kids?
Patty: I loved reading to my kids. Having them calm down, crawl in my lap, correct me if I dared miss a word. I wasn't chasing them or cleaning up after them, the only task at hand was some bonding over some stories. Both of my kids remember "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" with great fondness. It was always what I'd read to their classrooms on "Read Aloud Day" and that they could yell an emphatic "NO!!!" each time the pigeon pressed his case was a lot of fun. My oldest enjoyed story time with me longer than my youngest. He was reading chapter books in kindergarten, and the challenge was to find books that were fun for him but also suitable. Beverly Cleary became a safe choice with the Ramona and Beezus series, and Judy Blume to an extent with Fudge. My younger son preferred books about animals, which were usually pretty dry with science facts, but we would talk about the pictures...why the animal had the colors it did, ate what it did, lived where it did. He was far more like me as a kid in that pretty soon he preferred to do his reading on his own and drift off to sleep without any aid from me. Once he discovered The Hobbit, it opened a world of fantasy novels he would enjoy for many years. The Rangers Apprentice series; Percy Jackson, which engaged him in Greek, Roman, Norse, and Egyptian Mythology. He'd get excited when a new story was being released in the series, but it was nothing like the excitement my oldest had for events like the release of a new Harry Potter. I think the midnight release party we attended for the 7th book is the single biggest book-related memory for both of us.
ML: What is one sure fire trick that you found to get your kids engaged or involved in reading time (setting a special time or place? rereading a particular book? bribery?)
Patty: Books were plentiful in our house. I was fortunate to work near a used bookstore that would often have events where you could fill a grocery bag with used books for 5 dollars. I'd get classics like Heidi and Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan and Black Beauty, and when the kids had their fill I'd re-donate them. "I'm readng" was a pretty good excuse to postpone or get out of most chores, and the kids learned that early. But naptime and bedtime were always three books, and when they were older several chapters. It was a non-negotiable and they never really tested it. It was just what we did. They probably thought everyone did.
ML: What is your favorite children's book?
Patty: James and the Giant Peach (by Roald Dahl) is for sure my favorite. A lonely, kind, but fallible boy makes friends with (often) kind and (often) fallible creatures, who work together to overcome some very frightful adventures. I just found it so funny and clever, and I spent a lot of time daydreaming about those weird little seeds that started it all.
As an adult, I really appreciated the work of Todd Parr. In his wild, vibrant pictures and concise verbiage, he could communicate without apology some tough ideas for a parent (or at least, this parent) to explain to kids. It was okay to have no hair. It was okay to have two moms. It was okay to have wheels when your legs didn't work. He single-handedly made it easy for me to teach my kids to be open-minded when they saw something "different."
That being said, if you asked me to read to a group of kids right now, I'd have to say it's time to disappoint that pigeon once again.