This past Saturday, I took my youngest to hear Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes read from his latest work, The Year of Billy Miller, a short novel for the early elementary grades. The reading, a sort of pre-event kick-off for the full-on Wisconsin Book Festival which launches in earnest on October 17, was staged in the bright, cheery and enormous kids area of the new Central Library.
My daughter, having graduated from Henkes' mice books to his young adult fiction like Olive's Ocean and Bird Lake Moon a while ago, was quite a bit older than most of the literati in the audience. But she was still excited, nonetheless, to get to go to her very first author reading, by one of her all-time, favorite authors, to boot.
When I asked her, as we enjoyed a post-event almond steamer at Michelangelo's, if she'd enjoyed the program, I expected, and got, an affirmative answer. But instead of raving about how cool it was to see a see an idol strut his stuff in person, or how inspired she was to devour her next Henkes book for kids her age, she reminded me of something equally important.
"You know, mom. It's still pretty nice to have someone readout loud to you."
My daughter is now closer to 12 than turning 11. And it's probably been at least five years since we retired our nightly ritual of heading up to bed and picking out a picture book, poem, or kid-friendly novel for me to read to her. Curled up next to me is where she first discovered Henkes' mice books, Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, among other classics.
My husband and I, both exhausted after long days of doing whatever we were doing, would often quibble about whose turn it was to act as storyteller. But there is little question that what either of us may have seen as "losing" at the time, was actually a win. We both fondly remember dozing off beside her (often us first) while making our way through Harold and the Purple Crayonor Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
But these days she heads upstairs on her own, brushes her teeth (I hope), changes into pjs, and spends her last few minutes of wakefulness reading a few pages of tween girl fiction, Stone Soup magazine or Tiger Beat herself. All fine choices. But they don't involve me.
It's not so much that I want to return to the days of my reading bedtime stories. And I'm even less sure such rituals can be reclaimed once you've let them go. But I am glad that children young and old, as well as parents like me, will have some excellent opportunities to be read to during next week's Wisconsin Book Festival. On Oct. 17, pre-parents can to listen to Emily Oster discuss Expecting Better, her book about empowering women with the information they need to make the pregnancy decisions that are right for them. Later that evening, teens can check out First Wave's Hip Hop arts showcase where visiting youth poetry slam champions from cities across the Midwest will perform their work.
On Friday, both the author of the young adult work, Personal Effects, E.M. Kokie, as well as the novel's audio book narrator, Nick Podehl, will demonstrate how different voices make a book more interesting with a side by side reading. And on Saturday, American Girl doll lovers can come hear Jessie Haas read from and discuss her novels in support of the company's 2013 Girl of the Year, Saige.
Yes, listening to Kevin Henkes this past weekend did remind me that there is much magic in hearing a book read aloud. Even when no one is wearing his or her pajamas.