Reading (to the kids)

I read to the kids every night. They get to pick out whatever books they want, and once we have a pretty good stack, they pile in my lap and we read.

Most of the books we read are Little Golden Books. We have at least 100; bought in a batch. There is a startling variety.

Although I’m looking forward to the day when we can read from chapter books (and when we aren’t reading the exact same set of books every bedtime for 3 months, but I digress), I like that there is such a diversity of language in these stories.

Three of their current favorites, Scuffy (Eleanor), Little Red Caboose (Henry) and Tootle (both), were written nearly 70 years ago. We speak pretty differently in 2014 than they did in 1945 (Tootle), 1946 (Scuffy), and 1953 (Little Red Caboose). This was a time when World War II ended and the Korean War began (and ended), so there’s a mix of optimism and caution. There is also a reliance on rail travel that has declined, but that’s another post.

Tootle is about a young engine who goes to the Lower Trainswitch School for Engines to learn how to be a “two miles-a-minute” Flyer on the NY-Chicago run. Tootle tries pretty hard, but he has problems with the class he needs to get “100 A+” in – Staying on the Rails No Matter What, because going fast is more fun than following the rules. He learns his lesson and there are no hard feelings.

Scuffy is a grouchy toy tugboat who thinks he can do better than sail in a bathtub. He ends up sailing down a brook that grows into a river and eventually to the sea, having adventures along the way. By the end, Scuffy learns his lesson (when confronted by the endless sea – “there is no end and no beginning to the sea!”) and happily sails in the bathtub henceforth (“this is the place for me.”) This one, to me, read as a subtle admonishment to those young men who would wish to go to war, or perhaps leave home to pursue other ideas. (Scuffy and Tootle are written by the same woman, Gertrude Crampton, for what it’s worth.)

The Little Red Caboose is about how unappreciated the caboose on the train feels, until the train gets into a bit of a jam and needs the caboose. Consequently, the caboose feels much better about itself since the children in town now acknowledge it.

Incidentally, all three books are illustrated by the same guy, Tibor Gergely. That’s basically irrelevant here.

Anyway, back to my original point. Reading a lot when I was growing up gave me a bigger vocabulary to choose from because I saw words being used in unexpected or novel ways (even if they were only novel to me). Reading from a range of books to the kids now makes me feel like they’ll get an appreciation for the varieties of ways to use the word “fine” or building sentences that aren’t always a question. Sometimes we need to make choices about what gets read (hello, racism in Thomas the Tank Engine stories – leave the diesels alone), or sometimes we need to follow up a story with a better lesson than the one offered. Sometimes they’re just simple stories that the kids picked out especially.

5 responses to “Reading (to the kids)”

  1. I (er, the kids) love Scuffy! We used to read that one a lot until one of the pages got ripped out. They wouldn’t let us stop reading it so we had to try and guess/remember what was on that page. Same thing happened to Scuppers the Sailor Dog.


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