Once I had brushed my teeth and said a prayer, I climbed into the huge old Victorian bed, the same one she had slept in as a child, and waited while my grandmother found the book we were reading. She climbed in next to me, we pulled up the Little Red Riding Hood sheets, and she read. We read Anne of Greene Gables, The Magic Bed Knob, Mary Poppins, The Secret Garden, Tom Sawyer, The Borrowers and my very favorite, Heidi. We read from an old copy of Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales, my grandmother patiently reading "The Little Match Girl" over and over because it was always my first choice. When we had finished a book she told me stories of "Cuddles and Tucky", a series that ran in the Kansas City paper before I was born, adventures of a brother and sister. I remember thinking how amazing she was, to remember all those stories and now, as an adult, I know just how amazing she was, creating her own stories as we lay there in that big huge bed. While the stories we read are now amongst my favorites, what I remember most is how much I loved curling up next to her each night when she read, and knowing now that she took that time, every night, to be with just me. Whenever I stayed at my grandparents' house, my grandmother read to me before I fell asleep in my big old bed.
Last summer Jack gave me a copy of The Reading Promise (Alice Ozma), a beautifully written memoir of one girl's promise she shared with her father: to read together every night until she left for college. It was clear from the start that I was going to love this book. Her single father is a librarian, one who eventually looses his job to the reorganization of his school; the years of accumulated books packed into boxes to make way for computers, an idea that gives me nightmares. As a daughter who lost her father much too soon, a mother who cherishes her nightly reading time, and a librarian who loves her job so much she volunteers, The Reading Promise was clearly one of the best selections Jack had ever made.
Last summer we made our own reading promise. We've been loose when necessary, a quick poem or two when homework, or exhaustion, kept us all up too late. We read every holiday picture book we own in the month of December, rather than bury ourselves in a novel that would take us away from The Elves and the Shoemaker or The Tailor of Gloucester. We've made choices together, spending hours in our local bookstore scouring possibilities, and we've relied on my memory, somewhat. Knowing that one of the best books I read as a child involved a boy, New Jersey and fireworks, but unable to remember the title, I Googled those key words and discovered Henry Reed, Inc., by Keith Robertson. My memory is good, the series, of which we have now read three, is one of the best I know. They are still funny and wonderful and books to read in summer, as they all take place over summer vacation, and involve nothing more than the mishaps and quiet adventures of Henry and his friend Midge. There's no magic, no great adventure, just a boy, his dog and a cat sent up in the air in a weather balloon.
We've passed the one year mark with no end in sight. Of course I know that someday, in a time I am not now equipped to consider, our streak will end, as did Alice's. Their final read, huddled together in a stairwell of her college dormitory, was one that, even now, one year later, makes me weepy. Thankfully the beautiful story that led to the end was well worth the tissues required.
"Reading to someone is an act of love. This book is, above all else, a love story." -Alice Ozma
Our Reading Promise, Thus Far
Nancy Drew, Keane
The Secret of the Old Clock
The Hidden Staircase
The Bungalow Mystery
The Mystery at Lilac Inn
The Secret at Shadow Ranch
The Secret of Red Gate Farm
The Clue in the Diary
Nancy's Mysterious Letter
The Borrowers, Norton
Mary Poppins, Travers
Once Upon a Small Town, Mooy
A Christmas Memory, Capote
The Great Brain, Fitzgerald
Harriet the Spy, Fitzhugh
Secrets at Sea, Peck
The Journal of Finn Reardon, Bartoletti
Charlotte in Paris, Knight
Henry Reed Inc., Robertson
Henry Reed's Journey, Robertson
Henry Reed's Babysitting Service, Robertson
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Konigsburg
The Secret Garden, Burnett
"If a child sees something in a parent that the child aspires to, he or she will copy that parent and be content. If children feel that a parent is living a life that shows compassion and understanding, patience and love, that child will not have to reach a stage of rebellion against that parent. Why rebel against someone who has listened to you and wants to help you fulfill your dreams? A parent who has proven time and again that the growth and happiness of his or her children is priority number one does not have to worry about where those children are heading in life. They will be sensitive and productive members of society for as long as they live." -Jim Brozina (Alice's Dad)
All that and I get to curl up and end my day with the best people I know, even on days when they have made me absolutely crazy, and I them? There is no greater way to say goodnight.