Some of my most vivid childhood memories encapsulate the many nights when my mom read books to me and my brothers. In the winter evenings as the light faded and the snow fluttered to the ground, my brothers and I snuggled up close to Mom as she read aloud. Her voice gave life to the Beavers from "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" and expressed the embarrassment of Moonta as he learned to skate in "Far Out the Long Canal." I can still hear her lilting the poem from "Barn Dance!" in my head, or kissing my palm and whispering "Mommy loves you, Mommy loves you."
My parents rarely broke down the story for me, allowing me to discover the allusions or parallels for myself. In a way, they simply read the words or voiced the characters, rather than explaining the story in excruciating detail. I appreciate their choice in retrospect because they gave me the chance to realize the story's full weight and importance on my own. My parents gave me the gift of that story, a gift I got to unwrap and unpack for myself. It's the difference between simply getting what you desire versus working for and earning what you desire - the latter process builds appreciation for the process and product.
I was recently reminded of the strange phenomenon that is reading aloud. My ten year old cousin, Liesl, recently dove into the world of Harry Potter, reading through all of the books and watching all the movies, even attending a Harry Potter birthday party for a friend. One evening a few weeks back, I was watching my cousins while my aunt and uncle were away. Liesl bounced into the kitchen, "The Goblet of Fire" tucked under her arm. She plopped down at the table and, reading aloud at my request, shared the unveiling of Mad-Eye Moody and the plot to send Harry to the graveyard.
I already knew the story; I already knew the ending. I knew exactly who was who and what was to come next because I have read the books a few times myself. And yet I cherished sharing the moment Liesl first discovered the plot twist at the end of the fourth Harry Potter novel. Her surprise was priceless and so genuine, a surprise I will never again get to feel (for that particular book and series). As her voice rose and fell, revealing the details as well as her surprise, her excitement became my excitement.
There is just something magical about reading aloud, or having something read aloud to you. The voice personifies the text and enlivens the characters. The act of reading aloud tells the listener(s) that he, she, or they are worth taking the time to read to. Reading aloud is also a great way to get children into reading - I know that worked for me and my siblings! The best part about reading aloud is the opportunity it gives the reader and the listener to embrace and experience the story as fully as if it were for the very first time, re-creating the wonder of each story.