No, that’s not what I’m calling the kids these days. At least, not on a regular basis. The Twits to which I refer are that horrible couple conjured up by the amazing Roald Dahl. If you don’t know the story, you really should. To sum it up, a couple of really awful people eventually get what’s coming to them. But not before torturing each other in ways that absolutely delight Eva and Zoe. Which is in turn a delight to me because—and here is one of those confessions that I wonder whether I should make—The Twits is the first (first!!!) chapter book that the girls and I have ever made our way through. We finished last week. A whole book that lasted longer than one evening. Finally.
Yes, I am aware that the girls are turning 6 this year. I’m sure there are millions of parents who have been reading nightly these long and convoluted “big” books to their children since they were newborns. I realize our accomplishment is outside the range of normal, and not in a good way. But please. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. Close your eyes and imaging Grand Central Station on a Monday morning around 8am and then add a few protests and maybe a bomb scare. Now open your eyes. You just got a peek inside our home. Having two little kids the same age, with their short little attention spans and vastly different interests means one page may take a half hour. (“I need the potty! I’m thirsty! Hey what’s that on that shelf over there?”) Never mind the fact that there is a 2 year-old in the mix, who likes to crawl on top of me and throw a tantrum whenever I try to pay his sisters a little bit of attention.
But this is a new school year. Kindergarten is no joke. It’s Serious Time, people. And I’ve been guiltily hanging onto this article my father sent me about increased brain activity in young children who are read to. Turns out that reading to a baby, as often as possible, is associated with actual changes in areas of the brain, particularly those associated with mental imagery. Which simply means that when you read to a child, she creates images in her mind and that actually stimulates her brain’s ability to imagine.
Okay, so the article is about the importance of reading before kindergarten. Ahem. But don’t get me wrong. We have always had tons of books and reading is an important part of our lives. But we’ve never had a book that all three of us couldn’t wait to get back to at bedtime. It was more like “Really? I have to read about that dancing mouse again? “ Three times in a row? And as for their imagination, well, Zoe is somewhat of a pathological liar so I don’t think we have any major problems there. Beside the lying obviously. (She once told a dinner guest a very elaborate and detailed story about our beloved dog, who died a most tragic death. The tale was relayed later in the evening and I had to break the news that we’ve never even had a goldfish. Sigh.)
But back to the importance of reading. I decided to change it up. I grabbed the most disgusting story I could find and what do you know. They were more than happy to provide sound effects when imaging what would happen to their bodies if bubbles moved down instead of up in fizzy drinks. Totally gross. And yet delightful. Four nights in a row they went flying off to get their baths, anxious for another couple of chapters. Now we’re onto The BFG, also by our beloved Mr. Dahl. It’s not quite the hit I was hoping for and I’ve got to skip over some of the more confusing language, but with a little work (Hey, do you guys think the giant is going to eat Sophie now or later?) we’re getting through it. Which got me thinking: I need books that we’re all going to love if we are going to make this work.
When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader. I’ve wondered whether in this age of computers and iPads whether my kids would be. But I have hope, given this recent turn of events, that the magic between the pages of a book will capture their hearts as well. So I’ve started making a list of all my favorite chapter books when I was a little girl and we’re going to start reading them. I’m excited. People would probably give me strange looks if I were reading Encyclopedia Brown to myself on the subway, eh? But Eva and Zoe have given me an excuse to revisit those dog-eared pages of my past.
Reading with your kids is not just a way to stimulate their minds and encourage literacy skills. It’s also a way to share memories of your childhood, your sense of humor, family values and expose them to new ideas. (Like flatulence soda.) I am hoping we’ve started a new habit at our house that will not only last, but also allow me to share some of my favorite books. In fact, I’ve just ordered Beezus and Ramona and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Judy Blume. Beverly Cleary. I’m just hoping they translate to this generation as well as they did to mine. Ooh, what fun.