I read to my daughter every night. I’ve done this since she was a baby. It was really awkward at first and I would read as quietly as I could. For whatever reason, I thought I would be laughed at. I eventually got over this.
I am decently selective in what I will read. I have my childhood favorites, most people do, so when she started preschool, I noticed they were reading newer books. I wanted my child to learn a love for the classics (a little bit in hopes that they wouldn’t bore her in high school), so I started picking out specific books. Grimm fairy tales, Little Critter by Mercer Mayer, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, Shel Silverstein, Little Golden Books, and others that I can’t think of right now. Last spring I had bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the illustrated version, because I love that series and she showed a huge interest in the story. Got as far as the snake at the zoo and we were done. I think it scared her too much when it escaped. That was the only dud I’ve run into and I can proudly say that my daughter loves good books and was able to see the magic in Dahl and the hilarity in Silverstein. What I hadn’t expected was what I found.
Children’s books are filled with lessons. We all know this, it’s nothing new to us. But how many of us can honestly say that the stories we loved as children, have stuck with us through time?
The Fantastic Mr. Fox was the first Dahl book I read to her. She loved it. She raved to everyone she knew about how good the book was. She was only 4 at the time and I feel compelled to remind everyone that Dahl books are chapter books that don’t have a whole lot of pictures. It took us a few days to get through, but when we were done, she begged me to start over. I didn’t though. We had borrowed about 6 books from the library…again. And my mouth needed to re-hydrate. But it did get my wheels turning. I didn’t catch anything other than humor from that book, but I did get to thinking about more chapter books. My daughter, in a way, challenged me to give her something other than brightly colored story pages.
And then The BFG hit theaters.
The BFG was absolutely, by far, my favorite book when I was a kid. Other than that book, The Witches (also by Dahl), Harry Potter, and the Fear Street books, I can’t remember loving any other books nearly as much as these favorites.
I wanted to take her to see that movie so bad. I wanted to share that love with her.
Her dad beat me to it, and I didn’t know until well after the fact. I was crushed. But I had something he didn’t. I had the book.
I have a couple of small boxes of the books I owned as a kid. Now, I was by no means a gentle kid when it came to my things, but my kid is worse. It took a long time for me to get her to stop ripping and coloring on her books. So there was no way I was going to give her this one. But I still wanted to read it to her.
Thanks to the movie, all of Dahl’s more famous books are in print again. I bought The Fantastic Mr. Fox (we borrowed it before), The Witches, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The BFG. You would not believe the amount of money I have invested in books during my adult life. I was so excited and so was she.
As soon as nighttime came, I tucked her in and pulled out The BFG. Normally I let her choose what she wants to hear, but not this time. I wanted to be a kid again and fall into giant country head first. It took us about two weeks to read it. It’s lengthier than Mr. Fox, so I did lose her a few times during slightly heavy scene setting, but I usually had her attention.
She loves to ask questions, she’s very curious. A lot of ‘why’s’ and ‘what does that means?’s. To be honest, when I’m tired, her constant questioning annoys me, but I try my best not to let it show. At first, her questions were ruining the experience for me. I was having to remind myself that the movie is never just like the book and she was probably hearing bits that she didn’t see. After a short bit though, I learned something.
She was learning magic. The story was creating an entirely brand new world to her where precocious children with glasses like her were learning how to be brave and smart and kind and everything else we all want our children to be. A world where the scary-looking weren’t necessarily the ‘bad guy’ and where the ‘dumb sounding’ weren’t necessarily the least intelligent. A world where kindness and hard work almost always pay off, but is still worth it in the end. She was learning, in a way, lessons that I have forgotten as I’ve gotten older.
And I’m willing to bet some of you have too. Denial won’t get you anywhere either. You have to be truthful with yourself.
With story magic comes questions.
“Mommy, why did the BFG take her?”
“Mommy, what’s an orphan?”
“Mommy, where’s London?”
The questions never ended. But she was learning. I explained what an orphan was (I explained foster families the other day, she has a foster child in her class), I told her where London was and explained how big the world is, and I had to tell her, again, that there are people in this world who are just plain mean and cruel. I hate that I have to teach her that horrible people exist, but I would much rather frighten her, than lose her forever. She’s far more accustomed to that conversation than I am, I always tear up.
During the whole book, she asked questions, we laughed, and we hung to edge of our seats. And when it was over, she asked me to read it again. But I didn’t. I wanted to share more with her.
You see, after the initial onslaught of questions and my first thoughts of upset with how the reading was going, I found another kind of magic in the book.
I found the gift of sharing the magic. With children’s picture books, I just read words while I hold up the book for her to see the pictures and hope she gets the moral of the story. It’s usually not very fun for me if the story doesn’t contain any humor. This book was different. She didn’t have colorful pictures for her imagination to fall back on and the lesson in the story is more complex.
Reality shows her how life is, these books show her how it could be, and I get to be the one to show her the possibilities.
So, no, I didn’t get to get lost in giant country, but I got to watch my child make friends with a big friendly giant.
“The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world all to themselves.”
– Roald Dahl, The BFG
Come back next week for part 2!