More on Reading to Grandpa

I really should be going to bed, not writing this. But I forgot to start my laundry earlier today, so my bed sheets are still in the dryer. I was running a slightly larger than normal sleep deficit last week and last night I was really tired and tried to go to bed early . . . that didn’t work out, and then I had trouble sleeping throughout the night, so I was exceptionally tired today, and so by this evening I was laying on the floor in the dining room beside my computer and thinking it felt like a wonderful place to fall asleep.

In reading to Grandpa I’ve worked us through Caddie Woodlawn, then Moccasin Trail, and now we’re working on Maniac Magee. Grandpa continues to enjoy the stories and the reading in equal measure. He usually falls asleep before I finish reading so I wonder how he can keep in the story, but somehow he does, at least enough for himself. Some notable highlights:

I wondered if Moccasin Trail was too difficult for Grandpa. The chapters were longer than Caddie Woodlawn and the interaction more complex and the conflicts between characters more subtle. But in spite of my concerns he seemed to enjoy the story very much. At one point he asked, “How much do we have left? Is it almost over?”

“No,” I said, “We’re only about halfway through. Are you getting tired of this story?”

“No,” he said. “I was afraid it was almost over.”

I don’t want to give the story away for anyone who hasn’t read it, but at the end there is a final gripping conflict when a particular character is in danger. The chapter ends with one character screaming, distraught, at another character and the other character running off to attempt a daring rescue. Grandpa was gripped. I looked up and he wasn’t lying on the bed drifting off into dream land, he was sitting up watching me intently. When I closed the book and said that was the end of the chapter for tonight he said, “Awwww . . .”

Recently we started Maniac Magee. I was a little uncertain because this is a story about a kid in modern times and I wasn’t sure Grandpa could really relate to any story set beyond the Great Depression. However, I suspected that any story that dealt with the struggles of people Grandpa could relate to in some way, and further (as I’ve already said previously) I suspect half of his enjoyment is just to hear the reading, not the particular story. In any case, he seems to be enjoying Maniac Magee as much as the last book.

Sunday was a bad day for Grandpa. When I got back from my visit home Arlan was cleaning up a mess in the bathroom and told me he had to get Grandpa two pairs of new pants during the course of the day. The rest of the evening while I was back home Grandpa was very agitated and confused. It was a bad day for him, but I think part of his evening trouble was from his exhaustion. When I finally got him into bed I left the room briefly to get a drink and a quick bite of dessert before I started reading to him. I stuffed a bit of food in my mouth, took a quick drink . . . three minutes later I was back in the room and Grandpa was already sound asleep. Talk about falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. It was only 9:00 PM.

Nice, I thought. Grandpa was down early for once and I was so tired I needed to go to be early myself. A chance to catch up on my sleep. So I finished up what I was doing at my computer and got into bed by about 9:30. I get under the covers, lights out, and am trying to go to sleep . . . and Grandpa wakes up. It about 10:00 now. He has to go to the bathroom. So I get back out of bed and help him to the bathroom. He finishes his business in the bathroom and I help him back to bed.

Grandpa sat down on the edge of his bed and said, “Well, I guess it’s probably too late to read me any more story.” Fallen asleep before his story reading that night, and somehow he managed to remember it.

“Yeah, it’s too late I agreed,” thinking about my intention of getting to bed early, and how it was already heading toward quarter after ten. “It’ll half to wait until tomorrow . . .” But then I started feeling guilty. He had pretty much come right out and asked me to please read to him and we were both awake already and I probably wouldn’t have to read all that much before he fell asleep and besides what difference did it make, anyhow?

So I read him some Maniac Magee. But I didn’t catch up on my sleep last night.

Tonight I was preoccupied (not to mention tired) so I wasn’t keeping up with Grandpa as much as I should have, so he was already lying down in bed when I came to check on him. He was dozing lightly and I touched his leg and asked him if he wanted me to read him the story.

“Sure,” he said. “I’d love it if you’d read . . . I mean, if it isn’t too much trouble and if you don’t mind . . .”

So tonight we read about McNab the giant bully and his confrontation with Maniac Magee over baseball. Toward the end of the conflict McNab leaves the field, supposedly to take a wizz in the forest down by the creek. “He took a long time,” the story said, “but the kids supposed that someone as big as McNab needed to take a long wizz. They figured he might make the creek rise.” I glanced up and saw Grandpa grin. He was following the story at least that well.

****

I am finding it interesting to discover that, from my perspective as the reader, there is a definite and distinct difference in the quality of books for reading out loud. As I have said before, I am not a good out loud reader. I struggle with pronunciation even when I’m simply speaking my own thoughts–much less trying to verbalize whatever words the book is throwing at me. It feels like I constantly have two different threads of activity going on in my mind at once when I’m reading aloud . . . one part of my mind is reading the book, another part of my mind is trying to get my mouth to form the appropriate words . . . and then my mind is trying to keep both of those parts working is pretty good coordination.

Reading aloud requires real mental effort from me, a real linguistic workout, and this comes off better with some books than others. I’m not sure if I am such a poor reader that I simply do better with 4th grade reading material and anything harder gets progressively more difficult, or if quality of writing is really the key, and I can handle any level of reading so long as it is well written.

I’m not sure. I think Moccasin Trail was a slightly higher reading level than either Caddie Woodlawn or Maniac Magee, but how it struck me when I was trying to read it was how the writing quality struck me as so much poorer. I don’t recall noticing this when I read the story to myself. But now it seemed that whereas the two other stories read snappy and clean, with writing that felt as if it flowed so naturally, by contrast Moccasin Trail seemed to meander, the writing not as clean or sharp, the words not what you expected to follow, as if the writer didn’t chose the best turn of a phrase. I did a horrible job reading Moccasin Trail.

The reading itself was more difficult so I couldn’t keep slightly ahead in my reading of what I was supposed to be pronouncing, (and thus be prepared in advance for what I would have to say,) so I was pretty much winging it through the whole novel. If I try to pronounce words as I read them I go very slowly and haltingly. So instead I would make an educated guess what the next few sentences would say, and start saying that, and then quickly read on ahead to myself as my mouth started down the pre-programmed path. This was less than completely successful, as I would anticipate wrongly, and would have to either correct myself in mid-stride, or else (when I feared correcting myself would get my flow of words hopelessly mixed up) I would simply winging my way, no matter that the actual book said it slightly differently. Yes, that was something of an abomination of reading out loud, and striking to me the how I found the other two books noticeably easier. But I don’t think Grandpa noticed too much . . . though he actually did correct my mangled mispronunciation of one word (yeah, he was listening).

In closing, a note to the family back home: Make sure I bring Heidi back with me next weekend. I think Grandpa would really enjoy that.

My sheets better be done now. It’s waaay too late for someone who is trying to catch up on their sleep.

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3 Responses to More on Reading to Grandpa

  1. Titi says:

    I never read Moccasin Trail until fairly recently (6-8 months ago, maybe?), and, in my humble opinion, the writing stunk. I seem to remember I read it through because I was supposed to be doing weights at the time, but I thought the writer needed a good editor. So I don’t think it’s just “higher grade level” reading that makes it harder to read aloud.

  2. Cadie says:

    I was curious about Grandpa’s reaction to Moccasin Trail. I was re-reading some of it before we brought it down, to refresh my memory of what was going to be read to Grandpa, and thinking he’d like it. But since I hadn’t heard you mention anything about it, I thought you hadn’t read it to him yet.

    I enjoyed the book when I read it, but I wished that the author was a better writer. In both of the books of hers that I’ve read, the story is very interesting, and it seems like it should be leading up to something, but then it doesn’t. There’s emotional interest throughout the book, and then there’s more emotion at the end, but not much real progression from one thing to another.

    Not that a bunch of exciting things doesn’t happen at the climax of MT, but it seems like they don’t function to show anything new. For example, Jim has this dawning realization after bringing back the stolen horse that what he really wants is friends, not enemies, but it seemed that the story had already made this clear.

  3. R says:

    The central theme of MT is Jim struggle with his identity. That is what MT was leading up to . . . Jim’s final act at the end of the book. The friends/enemies issue was just a part of Jim coming to understand his changing identity.

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