The Second Third, Week 29: Expressive Reading

Tonight was six-year-old Trevor’s night to lead us in prayer. He opened with an Old Testament reading from our Children’s Bible and did an admirable job: it was chock full of Hebrew names and ancient places and Biblical expressions like “The LORD’s anger was kindled against them.” He navigated it all with remarkable patience and skill, his concentration was absolute — and he almost didn’t sound like himself, since (when he reads his own books) he is quite expressive. With less difficult books, already he is mastering the skill of reading just ahead of his voice with his eyes to pick up on the cues in the text: Is there a question ahead? An exclamation? Is the character frustrated? Scared? Excited?

I, too, struggle to read expressively, mostly because until recently, it had been a long time since I’ve done so — years, in fact, since I’ve read aloud even a classic Dr. Seuss.

Then this spring I picked up The Little Prince, which I had never read before, and decided on a whim to read it to our brood, a bit to a time, after supper. It went over well with all four Thorplets, but although I had the notion of providing voices to the handful of wonderful characters who populate the book, I found it impossible, primarily because much of the time I was to emotionally, uh…engaged…to do so.

Next I tried an old favorite, Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, figuring a familiar tale might be suited to a more dramatic telling — but although I recalled the story and the characters, I quickly found the structure, style, and syntax of LeGuin’s sentences to require a great deal of concentration. At times, I had to back up and start sentences over!

I find that the more I read to the kids, the more I enjoy it. We finished the LeGuin’s book last week and will no doubt return to Earthsea again soon — but in the interim, I’ve resurrected a ghost of my own childhood, outdoor humorist Patrick F. McManus’s The Grasshopper Trap. For years growing up, every time a new McManus book came out (or a new edition of Outdoor Life magazine arrived), Mom or Dad, Jill or I, would read after supper. The first story in the book, “The Skunk Ladder,” is a classic, and the kids were quickly in stitches and begging for another. I remember these characters, too — Crazy Eddie Muldoon, Retch Sweeney, the old woodsman Rancid Crabtree, Pat’s sister the Troll — and tonight, after dinner, I began to have a little fun with voices. It was great fun, and good practice, too: in my Second Third, I intend to read aloud more often, to the older kids, to the new baby, and God willing, the grandkids. I need to hone my skills if I’ve ever going to tackle something like, of I dunno…The Hobbit?

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