My son was trying to locate a copy of Lord of the Flies this month, but accidentally picked up The Hunger Games instead. Trapped kids, lots of violence, an easy mistake to make. I decided to read alongside him, so I plunked my bookmark in with his. He would read a bit, I would catch up. I would read a bit, he would catch up. It was all fun and games (games! ha!) until I got hooked and my bookmark was speeding along at a frankly obnoxious rate. How were we supposed to talk about the book if I kept reading ahead after bedtime? Did I care about him at all??
In my defense, I dare any of you to read only one chapter of The Hunger Games and walk away without a parent making you go to sleep.
This recent parallel-reading made me think of how special it is to share books that are part of my life story, books that help me answer the request for, “Tell me stories of when you were little!” Because it’s hard to separate young Meg from The Baby-Sitters Club or Little Women or “The Tell-Tale Heart” (I had my eccentricities).
My son finally did get a copy of Lord of the Flies, and I was itching to tell my very bitter story-of-when-I-was-little, but I couldn’t because, alas, it involved a spoiler. I’ll share it here, if you promise to stop reading right now if you haven’t read Lord of the Flies, because then I would be a hypocrite and have to let go of my resentment, which would be a shame.
I will preface this story by saying that this high school teacher did many really fun things, like assign costumed skits and coach academic teams, and was truly hardworking. She never shirked her responsibilities and we always had something productive to do.
She liked to summarize novels as she passed them out.
Visualize: My teacher begins to pass out a stack of copies of Lord of the Flies. She stands at her podium and says, “You’re going to need to know this. Piggy dies.”
Of course, I was appalled, furious, in full teenage revolt. During a following lecture, I placed my fingers in my ears and hummed softly. When she (very reasonably) asked me what I thought I was doing, I told the truth. “I just don’t want to know what happens before I read the book.”
I don’t remember her response, but she may have countered with, “I want the major plot points to stick with you so that the rest of your life you’ll remember what happened in Lord of the Flies, and understand any reference to it.”
And since I’ve forgotten everything that happens in Lord of the Flies besides Piggy’s death and deus ex machina, maybe reasonable people can disagree.
You know you have stories like this. Stories of the first time you read Anne of Green Gables or The Giver or The Secret Garden. Stories of getting lost in an assigned Dickens novel that you foolishly thought was going to be boring because it was a “classic.” Did you think you hated books until you read Ender’s Game?
My children have never felt closer to their Uncle Johnny than when reading the Harry Potter series. They, who rarely have to wait for anything to read, loved imagining him standing in line in the middle of the night for the release of the next book.
Or maybe you have stories of where you liked to read. I favored climbing into the top cabinet in our bathroom with a flashlight, but, again, eccentricities.
Did you have a favorite teacher who read aloud to your class? I will never forget sobbing through Number the Stars with dear Mrs. Pierce and our sixth grade class. Or reading Pink and Say with Mrs. Vincent. Or the many, many plays we read in the round with the brilliant Mrs. Jackson.
Did a story change you? Did reading The Chronicles of Narnia make you believe in God or did His Dark Materials make you doubt? Did a novel alert you to your own goodness or cruelty? Did it help you forgive? Did Marie Kondo make you tidy your closets?
Still stretching for stories beyond I-liked-this-book-when-I-was-your-age? How did you access your books? Bookstore, library, classroom, generous neighbor? Remember those monthly scholastic book order forms? How about Baby-Sitters Club subscriptions (maybe that was just me)?
Do you remember your library? Our elementary school library had a reading bathtub in the center of it, stuffed with pillows (I’m not even kidding). Even things you think may be boring (card catalogues, for example) may intrigue your kids (how did you put books on hold before computers?).
Sharing your reading heritage with your child can make what is already the best part of parenting (reading with them!) an even deeper source of connection.
Your stories are there. Just start talking.
I love The Hunger Games for the characters, for how real they are from the first chapter. I sob in the earliest pages of The Hunger Games, the period when usually, in most novels, I’m still getting acquainted with the protagonist and have very little emotional investment. (Pro tip: The audiobook version is terrible. Please read this one on paper.)
Lord of the Flies – You’re going to need to know this . . .
Aslan will always give me chills, no matter how many times I’ve read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. “‘Course he isn’t safe.”
Another favorite from Uncle Johnny, so glad to know Lyra and Will.
Didn’t really expect to juxtapose The Baby-Sitters Club and Dickens in a post, but . . .
The Giver by Lois Lowry