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    • dr

      I just read the *best* book I've ever read to my kids. If you like sharing satisfying story time with your kids, go and google "The One And Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate. It probably took us about a week to get through the whole book...a really rewarding and triumphant fiction, with roots in a true-life story. And for us, a refreshing deviation from the usual super-hero themed books my kids like to pick. I'm glad I exercised executive authority on this one.

      Story time is something I kind of bear grudgingly. I don't like to half-ass it, because I know my kids are bright enough to know when I'm just going through the motions, which gives off mixed signals of insincerity. But I'm usually exhausted by the time story time comes around. And doing a good job at it usually means taking the effort to read ahead...figure out who's saying what, & what the tone should be like...it's hard to keep the effort up when your energy is low.

      TV is so much easier. But it spoon feeds the CGI-enhanced visualization, and doesn't allow your kids to exercise their own imagination...doesn't allow them to pause the story and explore ideas. It's still fun family time, sitting around the TV watching a good comedy. But compared to a patiently crafted round of storytelling, the TV is a brain-dead substitute.

      And my kids are of a certain age--still young enough where they think the world of you as their parent, with an amazing imagination, and an incredible ability to latch onto the images you create with them. Exploring a really good book like TOAOI adds good balance to our kids' otherwise hyper-energetic Marvel-comic super-hero world. It's a bit of a pain, but when the story is good...so worth the effort.

      If you have one of your own you liked reading, post it up...I'd be curious.

    • jhubert

      I get the sense that my kids are a bit younger than yours (3 and 5) but I really enjoy reading a few books to them once I fight through the end of day exhaustion.

      Stella by Marie-Louise Gay is a wonderful read, complete with imagination and a whimsical flow.
      Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty is a lot of fun to rhyme through and has a fun topic. The other books from her, Iggy Peck and Rosie Revere, are equally enjoyable.
      Sam and Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Barnett is another fun read. My daughter loves pointing out just how close they came to finding something really special... and the dog is a treat.

      Looking forward to reading TOAOI. Thanks for the tip!

    • Chris

      Thanks! Perfect timing because our shelves of children's books badly needs a refresh. I bought it.

      It's pretty amazing that this book has ~2,500 reviews on Amazon, 84% 5-star, it won the Newberry Medal, and Disney started production in May for a movie. It has some big stars like Angelina Jolie.

      As with all children's books, it had some pretty emotional 1-star reviews on Amazon, but only 1%, which is unusually low. Most of the 1-star reviews I saw were people saying they love animals and this was depressing so they didn't finish it. What say you to that?

    • amacbean16

      I enjoyed reading The One and Only Ivan to my kids as well. It prompted some good discussions and kept all of us interested (ages 2-9 at the time, I believe).

      We are huge fans of reading books as a family around here and we've read over a hundred chapter books over the years. Some are so good they have to be repeated when the younger kids get to the sweet spot age to hear the story. :)

      For anyone interested in sharing great stories with their kids, I highly recommend The Read Aloud Revival podcast and booklists. They have everything from picture books to books to share with teenagers and they keep the lists short with only the very best picks: https://readaloudrevival.com/ . Sarah Mackenzie, the mastermind behind the movement, also wrote a book that's very worthwhile about how to work reading aloud into your family's routine and culture. It has wonderful recommendations: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0774ZQZ75 .

      My favorite approach is not to read at bedtime (when I'll fall asleep!) but rather to read at a mealtime when I have a captive audience and spirits are high.

      Here are 5 of my top picks:

      - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (a really approachable first chapter book if reading aloud is new to your family)
      - A Little Princess (a must-read with my girls when they hit 8ish)
      - Little Britches & Farmer Boy (my unmissables for boys, but loved by my girls as well)
      - The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (voices are a must here!)


      Below, my husband's reading The Chronicles of Narnia at a pit stop on a road trip several years back.

    • dr

      That's an excellent question, Chris.

      There's definitely some heartbreaking tragedy in the book. There's death...cruelty. Most of it is fairly delicately handled. But at one point, the author does present a certain tragedy in a pretty hard-hitting way, as children's books go. Depending on how you feel about humanity's general tone-deaf relationship to ... well... everything ... but in this case, animals specifically...I can definitely see folks "walking out of the theater". The true story is even more tragic. And we absolutely spent time exploring Ivan's real story after the book.

      And I will add--I am not shy of talking my kids through (some) tragedies....teachable moments and all. My kids are 6 & 8. They are normally hyperactive boys, more interested in nerf gun battles and have the attention span of a goldfish. But, we've found them to also be surprisingly astute watchers and interpreters of the world around them. They *get* it, and form their own ideas...even if we don't *talk* about it. So I'd rather talk about it. I will say--the younger son was definitely emotionally drawn out at the bleakest of the moments. (He had a good cry watching Pete's Dragon too). But at the end, he asked me if we could read it again. And to be honest...stimulating the thoughtful conversations after reading a chapter here and there...that's kind of why I love reading them stories.

      So, in my opinion, it'd be unfortunate stopping halfway through. As I said, there's a triumphant turn. And I considered the author's choice of how Ivan gets to a happy place to be rooted in a real understanding of gorillas, instead of just a trite anthropomorphism. (though the story is of course, a fable told from the perspective of Ivan, so yes...there are plenty of anthropomorphism...just not in the premise of Ivan's fate)

      I did *not* tell them that Ivan passed away recently though. I thought it better if they had the chance to relish in his victories, without having to acknowledge the ultimate passing of time.

    • dr

      I love that pic! :D And thanks *so* much for the links & recommendations. Just scanning through I thnk there are a dozen links in that site I want to explore.

      I too have been shifting story time around...definitely on Saturdays, doing a morning storytime is a great way to cover ground.

    • dr

      At 6 & 8, my boys are indeed a bit older but just a bit. Ada Twist was already on my summer reading list. :D The older one sometimes goes off and reads his comic series while I read to the younger one. But alot of times, he gets a kick enjoying the same books. I'm betting thats the case with Sam and Dave Dig A Hole. :D

    • SBean

      Reading has been a huge part of our family culture for years. Given the age (and relative energy levels) of your boys, I would probably suggest the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. It's a five book series, so it's a bit of a commitment, but they're a lot of fun. The characters are a good mix of relatable (with common human failings) and inspiring, and the pacing is great.

      I also really appreciate your thoughts on the benefits of reading books with some fairly intense thematic material. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes about children's literature. Neil Gaiman (paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton) said: “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”



    • wx

      Love that photo.

      How old is too old to read to your kids? If asked, I would have said that 7 or 8 is too old, but apparently not. When do they lose their tolerance for being read to, as opposed to reading the book for themselves?

    • amacbean16

      Are you ever too old to enjoy sharing a story? My husband read me The Princess Bride over a series of date nights and we laughed together and loved every minute. Did I mention he’s great at voices? 😀

      I think a big missed opportunity is stopping reading to our kids when they are old enough to read for themselves. It’s a twofold loss:

      It takes many years for their reading level to catch up to their listening level, so the meatier books are beyond them even when they start reading chapter books on their own. They are perfectly capable of hearing and internalizing rich vocabulary and compelling storylines but they are stuck only getting simple (and too often, inane) books as their only source of stories unless we keep reading.

      We also miss out on sharing stories with them. The deep conversations and insightful connections revolving around characters and their triumphs and failures can be a great way to connect with our kids and learn more about their own struggles and gifts. Laughing and learning with them is Quality Time extraordinaire and it’s as easy and cheap as opening the cover of a library book for 10 spare minutes here and there. I don’t plan on stopping as long as we both enjoy it... and even then I hope I’ll find a way to keep connecting over story. Maybe by reading the same book? Discussing over a treat or on a long walk?

    • dr

      I think of storytime like homebrew audiobooks. I still like listening to audiobooks, so really...there's no age limit for me.

      For the kids, their tastes in books can change day-to-day. So, we flip around, and sometimes the older one just goes off 'n reads his own stuff. Sometimes I'll as him to take his lil' bro through his comics, and then it's his turn to try to voice the characters.

      Here's one we started, which the boys seem to enjoy-- The Only Living Boy, by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis. We went to the local comic store and picked up the first in the series maybe a year ago. They have an online version too, though. It does a good job exploring the angst and range of emotions, that resonate with my boys. The artwork is awesome. The storyline is...thin. :) But it's fun, and the boys enjoy it for sure.

    • Chris

      We got our used copy of The One and Only Ivan and we love it. Thanks for the suggestion and keep them coming.

    • on

      My parents and I continued to read the Harry Potter series as it came out when I was home on breaks from college. We only stopped when I moved across the country, but I still sent them the last two when I was done with them. :)

      You never get too old to be read to.

    You've been invited!