Kids Listen with their Entire Being
"Soon, the brave little tailor and the beautiful Princess Minnie were happily married. And to think it all began with seven dead flies.”
So ends The Brave Little Tailor, starring Mickey Mouse. Whenever I concluded reading with those words and attempted to close the well-worn book, I was inevitably hit with a chorus of, “Aw, Dad,” as they yearned for more.
Why had my offspring narrowed the book selections to so few predictable favorites? Although the kids loved it, the constant repetition got to me. I rather empathized with the darker side of the original Brothers Grimm version of the tale.
It’s not that I was opposed to pulling story duty. Children take comfort in the familiarity and lasting values of classic storylines. But at reading time, temptation whispered, “What they want is your time. It doesn’t matter what you read; just read…”
A brief motor racing vignette in Road & Track, perhaps, or the latest major league baseball trade analyses from Sports Illustrated?
My mind would wander. They’d scold me.
“Dad! You just said the little tailor caught seven flies in a row. It’s, ‘Seven flies at one blow,’ Dad.” Busted. Sadly, it wasn’t long before I was caught yet again.
“Dad! It was Chicken Little who thought the sky was falling and The Little Red Hen who worked to bake the bread her lazy friends wouldn’t lift a finger to make. You always get them mixed up.”
Verbal slips aside, the kids crowded closer. They jockeyed for position against my chest, listening to the whoosh of my heart, the cadence of the words and the conviction of my voice reverberating into their inner ears, down along their spinal columns and deep into their souls.
Still, given the choice between Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle or the daily stock quotations, I’m afraid that Wall Street often muscled the good woman aside.
My wife urged me to persist. “The children have me all day. If only for a half-hour every night, you’ve got a solid grip on the children. Don’t let them slip away.”
Okay, I thought. Just as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle had her magical cures for never-want-to-go-to-bedders, surely I could find a cure for my reading ennui. In fact, taking a page from the Little Tailor’s playbook, I found seven.
First, I sometimes invited a “guest” reader. A Grover hand puppet and a gravelly voice kept me alert, delighted the kids and gave those stories a fresh new lease.
The second remedy was to turn off the TV, ignore the phone and read by a lone lamplight that ringed me and my audience in a cozy glow.
Third, for variety, we’d sometimes read in a “secret” place. Goldilocks acquires a new dimension when read under the kitchen table.
My fourth remedy was to introduce dinner readings. “For the first course,” I’d say, “a heaping helping of Hansel and Gretel.” Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches lend themselves nicely to this departure from standard fare.
Fifth, I’d occasionally take a break by playing a talking book episode. It made old standbys like Tom Sawyer fresh again.
As a sixth solution, when I assigned the kids parts in a story the plot took on a dimension that would often make us giggle. Even very young children that haven’t learned to read are able to memorize well-loved passages and recite lines verbatim.
The seventh remedy was to spin original tales. When I was a boy, my mother created an entire forest world populated by clever animals: Fox, the sly one; Owl, the fusty Winston Churchill; and Beetle Boy, the action hero. I took what she began and created Further Adventures from the Deep, Dark Wood.
While I didn’t feel every inch the polished spinner of tales early on, neither did I abdicate the richly fulfilling role of chief reader for our little tribe. The more interest I showed their beloved classics, the closer they snuggled. Remedies in hand, my attitude improved. I relaxed and became less attached to my “other” reading material. At story time, I soaked up the hugs, the laughter and the love. Truth be told, I came to like having the most luxurious—and requested—lap around.
Clint Kelly, a communications specialist for Seattle Pacific University, in Washington, authors tales for children and adults on topics ranging from dinosaurs to child rearing. Connect atClintKellyBooks.com.