There is a lot to be learned through reading aloud.

With three kids under one roof, my wife and I have developed nightly ‘pre-bed’ rituals. Strict routines. Electronics off at 6 p.m., sit-down dinner (with music) at 6:30, showers and baths at 7, the brushing of teeth at 8, read alouds in bed with a glass of milk at 8:30, asleep before 9 p.m.

It is a pattern that must never be broken.

Sydney, my nine-year-old, gets read to first, probably because she’s always the first to fall asleep. The middle child, she has developed a taste for books filled with drama and devious female protagonists. She loves snappy dialogue and comical plot sequences. She craves constant action and characters who take chances. She is fond of short chapters, sass, irreverence, and “bucking the system.”

I know Sydney better through her choice of books.  

Next in the read aloud circuit comes my eldest, Sebastian. He is 11 and has been known to read straight through the night. He has also come down to my bed at two o’clock in the morning in order to discuss the controversial ending to a book he just finished.

He appreciates a main character who thinks deeply about the world, rule followers who are also not afraid to stand up for themselves, protagonists who value loyalty, respect, friendship, and love. He appreciates resiliency. He does not shy away from a long book with long chapters and small print. He reads ravenously. He loves to illustrate the books after he is done reading them.  

I know Sebastian better through his choice of books.

And then there is Ellie, the youngest, and the last to be read to. At four years of age, I am still assessing Ellie as a reader – her likes and dislikes, her passions, her desires. Her hopes, her dreams.

I will know Ellie better through her choice of books.

Tonight, I have disrupted the routine. I have broken the golden rule. I am reading out of order. Ellie first. I am reading loudly to her, and after a moment, I feel Sydney slide in bed next to us, followed by Sebastian moments later. No one talks. No one interrupts. It is me with the three, like moths to the flame. The book burns eternal in the center, illuminating us all.

It is a rare evening when we are all on the same page.

Tonight’s book is entitled “Princess Cora and the Crocodile” written by Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrated by Brian Floca. It is the seemingly simple story of a young princess (in training), who wishes to break free of her humdrum, daily schedule, which involves boring lessons, running around the dungeon gym, and (not one, not two, but) three baths in which she scrubs, scrubs, scrubs her dirty body! With no room for play, Cora grows to hate her daily routine.

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Parent Co. partnered with Candlewick Press because they believe the best bedtime stories have a little something for everyone.

It’s no wonder that this book, with its strong-willed protagonist, carefully crafted, vibrant pictures, humorous yet poignant plot sequence, and deeply applicable morals has attracted all three of my kids this evening.

It has attracted me, too, if you want to know the truth.  

The best books speak to everyone, no matter their bedtime.

My kids’ books speak to me. I know myself better because of their books. Because of this book, about two helicopter parents who are scheduling their kid to death, about the danger of never breaking routine. This book, about the hazards of filling up every single moment of every single day with something, about leaving no room for play. No room for silliness. No room for add lib or off the cuff or make it up on the spot. No room for improvisation.

By filling all day every day with activities, Cora’s parents are not providing her the thing that she most needs – a little bit of freedom and a chance to live outside the confines of the calendar boxes. Of course, now I’m thinking…Am I a royal pain to my kids? Are we too regimented? School then soccer practice then drum lessons then home then stuff dinner down, then baths, brush teeth, then reading, and bed.

Weekends are worse, filled with getting up early and rushing around for sporting events, birthday parties, meals in the car, and getting home late. Sometimes we skip the read alouds on weekends.  

Dad plays with Toddler boy, is his son on his neck

The walls of my bedroom suddenly look more like a dungeon, and I swear I just saw three green, scaly tails sweep under the bed. When will my kids want to run away from their king and queen?

It’s the final page of the book, and I’m having a tough time getting the words out. There is a knot in my throat, and I am teary-eyed. The only thing better than reading a great book, is reading a great book with all three of your children nestled up tight to your sides, their toothpaste-tinged breath floating out and up, intermingling with the words and smells from the new pages I hold before them.

I’m taking the book’s message to heart. I wonder about this idea, that parents must always be teaching, making our children perfect, filling up their days with everything, exposing them to everything, anything to keep them busy, happy, out of trouble, learning. Anything to keep us from them. Do I keep them from gathering around me like this?

I never want this moment to end. I don’t ever want to break the trance, this dreamlike state brought on by the bound pendulum, swinging steadily before us.

The bedtime bell has come and gone, and my eyes break free of the book and wander to the glowing clock on my nightstand, glaring 9:01. I read the final words and close the book, savoring the moments of silence that come after the story ends.   

But it won’t end. Not tonight.

I don’t care what time it is. I don’t care about my need to get sleep, don’t care that my body is drained from the day, don’t care that I am losing feeling in my arms because of the weight of the kids leaning into me. I don’t care about our nightly routine.

ThenI hear the magic words from my youngest, Ellie, the words we all need to hear right now. They  bring everything back to life and ensure a few moments more of interruption, of improv, of life beyond the castle walls, of life with my three, scaly crocodiles:

“Read it again, Daddy.”

 

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Parent Co. partnered with Candlewick Press because they believe the best bedtime stories have a little something for everyone.

 

PRINCESS CORA AND THE CROCODILE. Text copyright © 2017 by Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Brian Floca. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA