Thursday, August 03, 2006


Bedtime stories

About four months ago, I was walking through a mall downtown and they were having a book sale in the atrium. I was on my way to a meeting, and didn't have a lot of time to browse, but I saw a paperback copy of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, re-issued with a section of glossy pictures from the movie in the centre of the book.

It was only $2.99, and so I picked it up. I clearly remember reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when I was somewhere between seven and nine years old. I had borrowed it from the school library. I remember lying on the black vinyl couch, and on the orange shag carpet, trying to imagine what it would be like to make a single chocolate bar last a whole year. The idea of Charlie's father, Mr Bucket, working in a factory screwing on toothpaste-tube caps stayed with me my whole life, for some reason.

I thought Tristan would be a little bit too young for it, but around the same time Marla had been talking about reading Charlotte's Web to Josephine, and Josie's quite a bit younger than Tristan, so I thought I'd give it a try. One afternoon we read a few pages, but he squirmed and wriggled and asked non-sequiter questions as I was reading, and I figured we'd save ourselves the stress and pick it up in a few years.

A couple of weeks ago, Beloved - who is usually in charge of Tristan's bedtime reading - was teaching late and I was putting Tristan to bed. I saw that they had started reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and were a few chapters in, and I was delighted to continue.

At first, I thought he wasn't paying attention. He was looking around the room, lifting his legs up the side of the wall and playing with the covers. There isn't an illustration on every page, and I suppose a page full of text that he can't yet read isn't much of a focal point. But every time I turned a fresh page he would to tell me the number of the chapter on that page, so he is watching, and when I asked him about what was happening, it was clear he was following the story.

I'm so excited to have entered a new world of books that we can share. Beloved has been great about finding interesting picture books from the library, and I've loved reading a lot of them. But now that we can start reading simple chapter books, I have a whole childhood of memories pressed carefully between dusty pages of an old novel that I just can't wait to share. Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, Beezus and Ramona, Superfudge... I'm excited just thinking about these old friends.

Beloved said last night that once they finish the book, he'd like to rent the Johnny Depp version of the movie for Tristan to watch, but I disagreed. He's just barely discovered the joy of a book that can be savoured over the course of a couple of weeks, versus one consumed in a single sitting, and I'm reluctant to replace the pictures in his head with the ones conjured up by the Hollywood special-effects crews. Beloved thinks I'm a little weird on this point.

So now that we're standing on the threshold of a brave new world of chapter books, I need ideas. Which books do you remember from your childhood, and which ones have your kids loved?

(Whoops! Edited to add: this post was partly inspired by a writing prompt over at Crazy Hip Blog Mamas. I've been a member of the ring since I started blogging a year and a half ago, but lately they've really been doing a lot of work to build a nice blogging mama community. Check them out!)