Sarah Simpson

Sarah Simpson

Sarah Simpson column: Prolific readers have their limits, too

Never disassemble a friendly robot

My family did something out of character the other day.

We watched a movie before we read the book.

My husband and I have read with our two children before bed since they were born but we rarely got together as a group and read. That was largely because my daughter went down a little earlier than my son when they were very young, and she wouldn’t sleep without me rocking and nursing her down.

(Believe me we tried everything and it always ended up in tears…often for both the baby and for me.)

That long and drawn-out bedtime process gave my husband and son a lot of time to read together and some of my fondest memories of those early years were rocking and nursing my baby girl in the rocking chair in her room, listening to my husband read to our son in his room, and hearing all the giggles and chats they’d have while doing so.

Then came March 2020. My eldest was in Kindergarten at the time and my youngest had just turned three. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival and the lack of information about it, the world ground to a halt and the students didn’t return to school after Spring Break.

Our work hours were curtailed a bit, and I had even been laid off for a month or so early on in the pandemic. As a result, the bedtime schedule for our kids loosened considerably and while we still got them to bed at a decent hour for our own sanity and their own growth and development, we stayed up reading together later than we would have had it been a school night.

Things have changed now, with enforced bedtimes and whatnot, but nearly three years and roughly 50 books later, we’re still going strong with family reading time.

It began with George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl. I have a 15-minute audio clip of my husband reading aloud and my children laughing hysterically at the story. I treasure it. The family reading continued through the entire boxed set of Dahl’s books before we moved on to the Penderwicks series and the Magic Misfits series and then all the Ramona books. We’ve worked our way through the entire Mysterious Benedict Society collection as well.

We’ve tried (and failed) to finish Stuart Gibbs’s first book in the FunJungle series called Belly Up. It was too scary, you see. We stopped midway through the book when an autopsy was being performed to find out what had caused the hippo to go, well, belly up.

We also didn’t complete Peter Brown’s delightful The Wild Robot. My husband and I were particularly peeved about not finishing that one because it was good. The kids just had really big feelings when Roz the robot, who they’d come to care for in the first three-quarters of the book, was in danger of being captured and disassembled. They refused to read on to find out how she escaped even though they logically knew she would be OK because there’s a follow up book literally entitled The Wild Robot Escapes. We’ve tried to come back to it but a year and a half later, the kids still won’t do it.

After reading some of the books: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the BFG, Matilda, the Mysterious Benedict Society, and others, we’ve gone on to watch the movies (or TV series as in the case of the Benedict shows) and by and large we always seem to agree the books are better because of our imaginations.

But the other day after a particularly trying morning, I threw up my hands and told the children we were going to reset the day by having a rest and watching Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

We haven’t really introduced the books yet because at the rate we read the kids wouldn’t be keen at all to keep up with the increasingly scary subject matter as the series progresses.

I just knew they’d like the first movie though. And luckily for my exhausted mom-self, it was a solid two hours of peace.

My kids have known for years that Harry Potter existed and that it might be a bit frightening near the end of the series, so I can’t say I was surprised when they watched the first part of the show reluctantly through the cracks in the fingers of the hands they had plastered over their eyes. As the show went on, they got comfortable with the characters, the mood-setting music, the ghosts, and the magic and whatnot.

Eventually, they were, in a word, captivated.

The movie got the desired result, our day turned around and we ended it on a good note. The next day, I overheard my son ask my daughter if she wanted to watch the second movie. I was afraid this would happen.

“No, no no!” I told them. “Let’s read the books first.” I don’t want to make this movie before book thing a habit. I want their imaginations to work first. I want them to understand that their brainpower will always trump what they see on TV.

In the meantime, we’ll keep working our way through Stuart Gibbs’s Spy School series. We’re about halfway through the 11-book series so I think we’ve got some time.

ColumnistComedy and Humour

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