Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Henry Huggins

I have been gone so long. Not from reading. Certainly not from reading. But, from writing. So much has changed in the past year. Jay is completing his last week for pre-K on Friday. Kay had her last day of her "pre-nursery school" last week. They are both still voracious book readers/listeners.

One of the most momentous changes in our reading is the introduction of read-aloud chapter books. After a wonderful workshop at Jay's preschool, I decided to try reading My Father's Dragon aloud to him. Not only was he ready, but we finished the book in one sitting. We read the rest of the trilogy together, while Kay napped. Lately, Kay has begun listening and following the chapter books along with us. Her comprehension is not quite up to Jay's, but she is still enjoying the experience.

I think I have been enjoying the change most of all. I have been pre-reading all the books, to make sure the content is appropriate, since most of these books are aimed at eight-to-nine-year-olds. And, I have been having so much fun. I've been discovering new books, and rediscovering old ones. I have been remembering just how much I loved reading as a child, how much satisfaction I felt each time I finished a book. It sounds crazy for an adult to say, but reading books intended for third graders has reconnected me to my passion for reading.

Among my favorite recent rediscoveries has been Henry Huggins, by the ever-reliable Beverly Cleary. I enjoyed reading Henry's adventures as much as an adult as I did as a child. As I read, though, I began to worry. Could Jay connect to this character, and to this time in history? After all, the book opens with a third-grade boy alone in a drug store. He's not lost. He has not run away. He is just alone, eating an ice cream cone and reading some comics. You want to hear something even crazier? He is alone in a drug store, without a cell phone, and he is going to ride a bus--NOT a school bus--home, alone. In 2015, this would be grounds to throw a parent in jail. But, this book acts like it is no big deal. How could Jay possibly relate to that world?

You know the funny thing? After I explained that the bus was a city bus, and not a school bus, Jay completely accepted it. He loved the book. I'm still not sure that he understands the time period. Maybe he accepts it the way he accepts the Star Wars universe, or Berk in How to Train Your Dragon--as a completely fictional time and place. Which is fine, at least for now. 

For me, I found the book to be cozy and comforting. It made me long for a Klickitat Street for my own children, where there are kids in the neighborhood, and they all know each other, and play together until the street lights come on. It made me a little sad that they would most likely never spend a whole evening trying to catch night crawlers for a neighbor for a penny apiece, or show their mixed-breed dog in a neighborhood dog show. But, it also made me glad that they could experience that world, through Henry's eyes, and through Beverly Cleary's vivid story-telling.

Last night, Jay confirmed to me that he really did enjoy Henry Huggins--not just in that just-finished-the-book afterglow. Over a week after we finished, he asked me last night if I could get the second Henry Huggins book from the library. I did, gladly. And, if you have kids of read-aloud age, you should, too. Or, maybe you should just go read it again, for yourself. It really is a cozy, fun book. 

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