We don't read a story every single night at bedtime, but we do read often, about three times per week. For several months I had stopped doing bedtime stories; actually, we go through waves. We'll read daily for a while. Then, a couple of times per week. Then, not at all for a time. It's kind of like running or daily Bible times -- I don't want to do it until I start. Somehow, because it is work, I forget how much I enjoy it.
I find that the only way to make my characters really interesting to children is to exaggerate all their good or bad qualities, and so if a person is nasty or bad or cruel, you make them very nasty, very bad, very cruel. If they are ugly, you make them extremely ugly. That, I think, is fun and makes an impact.1
We've been reading a couple of books lately. We began The Prince and the Pauper first in April, I think, but it has been hard to stick with it. The language can be difficult in places and requires a lot of explanation, which takes away from the flow of the story. It is also considerably long and therefore slow-paced. It would be better if I could read the novel myself and then, choose sections to read to the children.
We are currently about 1/4 of the way into The BFG. I read this book myself 10-15 years ago for the first time, and I loved it. I was somewhat concerned that the kids would find some of it scary, especially at bedtime, with the child-abduction and all the talk of eating people, but they haven't been scared by it at all. I read a book, or something else, at some point in which Roald Dahl addressed this worry of mine, and it rings at the back of my thoughts a lot while reading his books. It was about fear, that children's books could include terrible, fear-inducing characters and situations as long as it is tempered with comedy and silliness. He suggested, I think, that as long as it is clearly ridiculous, kids would enjoy such stories as that of the villainous, child-hunting giants. And not just generally unlikely, as in clearly there are no giants in the world, but frequent humor must be throughout the storyline. Apparently, he was right about this.
The BFG and The Prince and the Pauper are both Kindle e-books we borrowed from our local library. Although we do still go to the library from time to time to read and check out printed-paper books, we have been doing so less and less. It has been very difficult for us to return library materials by their due dates, so we are always racking up fines. Downloading e-books eliminates this problem. Also, with the changes in mood I experience, trying to get out to go somewhere, anywhere, can be very stressful.
In addition to the longer books, we read picture books and also short stories from Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales. We have had a lot of fun with the Grimm stories. Some of them seem scary, similar to Roald Dahl's writing, but the kids have never been disturbed by any of the stories. They are frightened by things like the Twilight Zone commercial that has a glimpse of a man with his eyes unusually close together or some oversized letters on the spine of a book or colored pencils that are sharpened on both ends. I always expect stories like "Hansel and Gretel" and "Little Red Riding Hood (Cap)" to be nightmarish for them, but they never are.
I am familiar with some of the fairytales of the Grimm brothers, but the majority of them are new to me. Even the ones I know have details and turns I either didn't remember or never heard of. These little fantasies usually have a clear, sometimes stated, moral or lesson, but the biggest take-a-way we've had, I think, is the idea that anything can happen in a story.
At some point in Elementary school, or maybe Middle school, I remember reading this short story in class that I had never come across before then and have never seen since. In it someone removed one of his arms, easily without any surgery or pain, and we learned that in that story people were simply able to take off their arms when they wanted. We learned that it didn't matter that in our reality, people cannot so easily detach their arms; in this fictional reality of this particular story, people could. And this reality was determined by the author.
My children came to the same realization as we read "The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage" earlier this week. In conversation, we wondered how a mouse or bird could befriend a sausage. It's funny that I think of it now; why didn't we wonder how a bird and mouse could be friends? Of course sausages are usually inanimate, but we decided that in this story a sausage could be like a mouse. And a mouse could be a person.
"Roald Dahl." BrainyQuote.com. Xplore Inc, 2016. 25 May 2016. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/roalddahl562483.html ↩
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