Reading Road Trip Redux

December 15, 2008 at 5:58 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 4 Comments

Friday morning, Rocket Scientist and Sweetie Junior and I left on a whirlwind weekend trip to Oregon.  We planned to take turns reading aloud on the trip, and this is how it turned out.

I brought a stack of books, so we could vote and choose something we all found interesting.  The inevitable happened:  Out of a stack of four books, RS picked two and SJ picked the other two.  Then we actually wound up reading something entirely different.  The last time RS and I traveled this particular road, we read The Declaration by Gemma Malley, and later SJ read it.  I bought her its sequel, The Resistance, and she suggested that we read this, which was really thoughtful.

Reading aloud with a young person is full of surprises.  They all tend to have their little idiosyncracies; for instance, my nephew Li’l Brain rushes through sentences without pausing for breath, while Rocket Scientist’s niece skips several words at a stretch without realizing it.  Sweetie Junior reads well, but often substitutes one word for another.  When she hits a word she doesn’t know, she freezes.  We spent quite a bit of time spelling things out and giving definitions.  Sometimes we were able to guess the missing word from the context, much to her surprise, like so:




The other problem was that, unlike its precursor, The Resistance contained some adult language.  It was uncanny the way these terms popped up only in Sweetie Junior’s chapters.  “Oh God,” she groaned in mortification, as she had to read aloud the phrase “made love.”  After getting through “b-llsh-t” without incident, she wouldn’t read “bastard” at all, only giving us the hint that it started with a B until we guessed it.  I was also surprised that she considered “crap” a swearword, and reminded myself to start watching my own language a bit more carefully.

We finished only the one book, about ten minutes before our exit.  Reading the book made the trip.  In spite of all the vocabulary correction interruptions, SJ grew more enthusiastic about reading as the trip went on.  It kept us from getting bored and restless – if you’ve ever gone anywhere with a 14-year-old, you know this is a good thing – and it was doubly helpful when we spent an hour stuck behind an RV in the snow.  We’re already debating what to read for our (longer) Christmas trip.

I learned three things from this experience.  1. Most people read aloud at a rate of about 20 pages an hour. 2. Always make sure a book is fully vetted before exposing a kid to it. 3. Your kid may not be the sophisticated reader you think she is.

Reading aloud is a real test.  Not only is there the constant struggle to enunciate clearly and reach a volume that everyone can hear over the back seat, but there’s the issue of comprehension.  We wouldn’t have realized that Sweetie Junior did not know the meaning of ‘contraceptive’ or ‘sterilization’ in the context of a dystopian novel about a controlled population if we hadn’t read the book with her in real time.  Inevitably, all the gaps in vocabulary, concepts, social cues, and historical and cultural knowledge came up.  It took real courage for the poor kid to keep on reading, in spite of being corrected at least once per page, which really speaks to the power of literature.

Then again, maybe it really only speaks to the fear of spending 16 hours singing off-key holiday songs.


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  1. It sounds like quite the experience! My 7 year old is a precocious reader, so we’ve run into the issue of bad words already, although thankfully they are mostly words like “hate” “stupid” “dummy” etc. He’s such a good kid that he won’t read them.

  2. Isn’t it funny, how we can turn out a generation more sensitive than ourselves? It hardly seems possible.

  3. How interesting. I’ve noticed that when I read aloud, I tend to put on a different voice, which is usually too loud. It annoys even me, but I have trouble not doing it. My husband, he reads too fast.

    You made me remember something from my childhood: when my mother read us novels as pre-teens, she often skipped the naughty words. Years later reading the same books I was astonished at some of the language they contained and only then realized what editing she’d done on the fly!

  4. Your reading trip and this post get a standing ovation from me!

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