28 Jun 2011

The Curse of Mr Henshaw

There is a day looming large in the future that I am not prepared for.

It's a day that I know is coming soon but I'm trying not to think about, because it makes me sad. It's a day that I can't imagine the consequences of. It's a day that Alice Ozma's Dad in the first chapter of her book, The Reading Promise refers to as the Curse of Mr Henshaw (You'll need to read the book to discover why...). (Read an excerpt from the book now, but it won't explain the curse.)

It is the day that I have to stop read aloud to my daughter.

And like Alices Dad, I don't want to stop reading aloud to my daughter, because reading aloud to my daughter is what I do best.

And I don't want to stop.

Our day is filled with read-aloud opportunities. We have family read-alouds; bedtime read-alouds; free read-alouds; school read-alouds. We even have read-alouds that she reads to me. Despite the fact that they make my voice so hoarse and scratchy that I can barely talk, I love them all. I don't want to miss a single page of a single book. And I don't want to miss a single minute of the time we spend together in reading them. Although we are not slaves to a routine, each of these has its own special place and its own special traditions. Family read-alouds are in the car. Bedtime read-alouds include huggle-time, and lots of time to talk over our day. Free read-alouds are on the kitchen sofa. Mostly. These are the most variable, probably. School read-alouds happen in the sitting room by the fire in winter and in the kitchen or outside on the deck in warm weather. Almost every single day we spend time reading together. And we love it so.

So far, the only books I've 'allowed' Jemimah to read alone are ones we've already read, or books I'm not interested in, and there are relatively few of those - the 3rd and 4th of the Boxcar Children series; the later Ramona books by Beverley Cleary; The Clarice Bean books by Lauren Child; the second two books of The Fleurville Trilogy by Sophie, comtesse de Ségur. I let her read the third of Elizabeth Enright's Melendy Quartet in a moment of insanity, and have been trying to find time to catch her up ever since. Likewise Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and Speedy by Colin Thiele. Why was I silly enough to let her read those without me?

Can you see my problem?

See, I can't even bear her to read her school texts without me. Well? Would you if they included Robinson Crusoe and Kidnapped and The Family at Misrule and Mates at Billabong and James Cook, Royal Navy by George Finkel and Bennelong by Joan Phipson? Could you leave her to read these alone? Now I am not entirely a failure. I do allow her to read It Couldn't Just Happen by Lawrence Richards and George Washington's World by Joanna Foster, but this is only because I so far manage to pre-read these each day before her so that when she comes to me to narrate I can discuss knowledgeably with her what she has learned. (Of course that's the reason!) She reads her read-aloud to me too...

The day that this delightful state of affairs must end is looming large. While I hope that like Alice's Dad I am able to continue nighttime reading aloud to Jemimah for many many years yet, this selfish habit of mine has to stop. And soon.

Here's what Charlotte Mason has to say:
The most common and the monstrous defect in the education of the day is that children fail to acquire the habit of reading. Knowledge is conveyed to them by lessons and talk, but the studious habit of using books as a means of interest and delight is not acquired. This habit should be begun early; so soon as the child can read at all, he should read for himself, and to himself, history, legends, fairy tales, and other suitable matter. He should be trained from the first to think that one reading of any lesson is enough to enable him to narrate what he has read, and will thus get the habit of slow, careful reading, intelligent even when it is silent, because he reads with an eye to the full meaning of every clause...

...It is a delight to older people to read aloud to children, but this should be only an occasional treat and indulgence, allowed before bedtime, for example. We must remember the natural inertness of a child's mind; give him the habit of being read to, and he will steadily shirk the labour of reading for himself; indeed, we all like to be spoon-fed with our intellectual meat, or we should read and think more for ourselves and be less eager to run after lectures.

Charlotte Mason Home Education p 227 (emphasis mine)
Now I am quite capable of ignoring the well-meaning advice of others if I don't think it applies to me and my situation, but I'm afraid Miss Mason has hit the nail on the head here. Doesn't she always? (Wry grin.) These words resonate with me, and I know she is right! And I don't want my daughter to shirk the labour of reading for herself. I don't!

So far, Jemimah does read. And so far she loves to read. I like to think both her parents have been a good role models there. But I can also see that soon I must pass the responsibility of reading over to her, and hang onto only the vestiges of this wonderful time for myself. It makes me want to cry, writing that.

Alice and her Dad's Reading Streak lasted an amazing 3218 nights. That's consecutive nights of reading. It was a wonderful time of togetherness for this Dad and his daughter. The streak was okay because it was only a bedtime read. Sometimes it was only ten minutes long. It's what I need to aim for: One or two read-alouds a day.

One day soon it is going to happen.

But not now.

Not today.

Today I'm just going to pretend that everything is okay.

Because it is. Right now.

I'm currently reading The Reading Promise. Not aloud. To myself. I recommend it. Which is not surprising. You know I love books about books.

You can learn more about it here.

Alice's blog is here.

Do you like reading aloud as much as I do?

Maybe I'm ill.

Do I need psychological help?


  1. Absolutely not. I will not. I'm choosing to pretend I did not see that quote from Charlotte Mason. She could be fallible, right? She could be wrong in this area! I refuse to believe we must give up reading aloud. No never. Fingers in my ears..lalalala! Oh better cover my eyes too. Except I can't. I'm going to go and read aloud to my boys.

    We must band together Jeanne and keep reading to our children until we're too old to read another word and then have our children read to us in our nursing homes as we rock in our rockers. That's as it should be...isn't it?!

    Stop reading aloud to our children - ppff, who ever heard of such a thing.

    Charlotte Mason dear, hold your tongue.

  2. I'm 34, live on the other side of the world to my mom and she still reads aloud to me over the phone. Even recites stories over skype and the like sometimes. When I still lived at home as a teenager she would often read interesting bits and bobs aloud to me (rather randomly) from whatever she was reading at the time. I thought it was a bit odd then, but really appreciate it now - and it never stopped me from reading for myself!

    As an explanation she is a children's librarian and does storytelling as her occupation...


    (ps - I really appreciate your hugs recently!)

  3. You are such a good mom! I have a secret confession to make. I don't like reading aloud to my kids, I never liked it at all. Not one single bit. I do love books, I did surround the kids with books, I read all the time, (to myself and quietly) but I would have to force myself to read aloud to them. During my early homeschool years we read many books together, but it was painful for me. The kids have great memories of that time, so I'm thankful I did it.

    Maybe, you should start making You Tube videos of you reading books aloud so you can bless the rest of us!

    I think Ms. Mason's advice could be taken somewhat to heart, but not completely. You have a natural passion for reading aloud, you did it well, it blessed you and your family. Who can say there is anything wrong about that? I say, good for you! You are an inspiring mom. :)

  4. You could always become a Librivox reader. My daughter often tells me that I ought to do it. :o)

    Well, my oldest is 13,and a half, and a voracious reader, yet she still begs me to read aloud to her. She follows me around with books. When my computer time has gotten a bit too long she's been known to quietly slip a book under my nose as a not-so-subtle hint.

    Certainly we don't want to cause our children to become too lazy to read for themselves - Charlotte is right about that I guess. On the other hand, if you have passed on a passion for books, it's highly unlikely to happen, I think. The fact of the matter is there is not enough time in the day for me to read to my kids everything they want to hear, so eventually they do pick them up for themselves. Then the hard part gets to be getting them to put them down!

    And, another view of the issue. Being in a habit of reading aloud is very important when you have a child that struggles to read on his own. My oldest son just took a long time to get it. I never had to worry that he was missing out, because he also loves having me read to him. Now he reads on his own - not as much as his sister, but enough. All of my kids love being read to, and I don't see them rejecting my overtures any time in the near future. I guess we have naturally found a good balance.

  5. I was still reading aloud to highschoolers. I suspect my super dyslexic would not have persisted with reading for himself otherwise but he got enough to know he was missing out on something wonderful in not being able to read for himself. Now he is a big reader. Star does like her schoolwork read to her but she reads voraciously for herself too. I'd just go with the flow myself.

  6. No you are not. We all love the read aloud time here. I am pretty sure the children love it just as much as I do especially when we are reading Trixie. We just started number 9 today. I am pretty sure Trixie will bring back lots of.memories for my children when they are older.

  7. If you are sick, there is a whole lot of sick moms, ha ha ha, me included!
    I see this coming, but today I feel very lucky, with a four and six year old girls, I have some sickly years ahead! ;)
    Great book recommendation. I wasn't even aware of this fact about reading aloud which in excess will be a hindrance. It's hard to take, it must be. It becomes such a strong habit and relationship that when it has to be weaned, it means the end of a phase in life, the starting of a different phase, and that always makes us humans, habit persons, kind of anxious.


  8. I'm pretty sure, even though I'm 49 now, that my Mom would happily read aloud to me still!! Don't stop!

  9. I have to cast a vote in with the others. I totally see where Ms Mason is coming from, but I don't think she means to cast off read aloud time entirely. Not a bit.

    And I can speak for myself and say that I get so much more from books read aloud than read silently. Reading aloud helps to capture every word that I would have normally skimmed over when I read to myself. Over the past few years I've gained so much appreciation for reading aloud. Why would I ever give it up?

  10. I think that we share the same symptoms - I love reading aloud, and my kids, even the eldest, 17, love it too! So we're all happy!
    I call read alouds The Homeschooling Glue! We'll stick to it!


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