Curious to know what adults remember about reading aloud from their childhood, I’ve been springing the question: Did people read aloud to you when you were a child?
While on the ferry to the Cranberry Isles, I approached a passenger well along in years and asked the question.
Her eyes danced as she described her grandmother reading to her and her cousins as youngsters summering in Boothbay Harbor.
Each evening on a screened porch, the children would sink into pillows on the daybeds and listen spellbound to their grandmother reading “The Swiss Family Robinson.” With a background in community theater, she knew how to give the right emphasis and tone to each phrase.
By day, the girls would comb the beach for tidal offerings to be used for props, and they would act out scenes from the book.
This ferry passenger was Christina Hunt of Southwest Harbor, and she went on to talk about hearing her father read during the winter months. At holiday time, he read “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens and “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas.
I continued asking people almost at random about their read-aloud experiences from childhood.
The people who remembered invariably broke out in a smile, and most of them recalled specific books. Some people couldn’t remember actual books, but they recalled the special feeling of snuggling with a loved one at reading time. Those who had not been read to as children sounded wistful.
A tourist from New Zealand felt sure that her mother had read to her and her siblings, but she couldn’t pull up the memory. She brightened while assuring me several times over that she’d read aloud to her own children.
While paying for office supplies at Staples in the Bangor Mall, I put the question outright to the cashier with nary a preface or explanation. It turned out to be Kris Bailey of Stetson.
Yes, she answered emphatically. At bedtime, her dad read aloud the “My Father’s Dragon” books by Ruth Stiles Gannett. After lights out, Kris wanted to slip out of bed to sneak the book from the living room shelf to find out what happens next in the story. Her mother read aloud “Winnie the Pooh,” and her fifth-grade teacher read “Bridge to Terabithia.” Kris went on to read the books of the “Redwall” series, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and countless others. She links the early read-aloud experiences to her goal of becoming a journalist.
Robert Fernald from Franklin is a cashier at the Moose Crossing Citgo station in Trenton. He deftly takes payment for gas, snacks, newspapers and Powerball tickets while carrying on short conversations with each customer. When talking with me about reading books aloud, he reminisced about a particularly tricky group of fifth-graders he’d taught years ago in Brooklin. He tamed them and captured their interest by reading aloud “The Survivor” by Robb White.
Peggy Bell of Corinth, who works for a periodontist in Bangor, is cheerful by disposition.
But when I asked if she’d been read to as a child, she turned downright exuberant. She and her sister always curled up together for bedtime reading. She said the experience became a springboard for her learning to read at an early age.
She paused and grinned before her next comment. She told me she had read to her son every night before he was born. “My Little Puppy” was the prenatal favorite, though later her son preferred “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
Marko Packard of Turners Falls, Mass., was in the area to play in the contradance band Airdance at The American Folk Festival in Bangor. He plays flute, sax, tin whistle and guitar, and he’s a singer and songwriter.
Books and reading have been a big part of his life. He and his older brother listened to their parents use dramatic voices for “Winnie the Pooh,” the “Just So Stories” and James Thurber’s “Fables for Our Times.”
Marko’s mother made up exciting stories for the boys, and he remembers sitting on his grandfather’s lap and marveling at the deep voice reading “Peter Rabbit” and the other little books by Beatrix Potter. When big brother started reading to himself, Marko was determined to catch up. Soon he was reading “Charlotte’s Web,” “The Borrowers,” The Little Witch series and the books about the Chincoteague ponies. As an adult, he buys and reads children’s books to himself and aloud to others.
Whenever I drop by the Walls Coal Co. in Southwest Harbor to pay my oil and propane bill, I anticipate a lively conversation already in progress or sure to arise. Maryann Minctons, who runs the office, holds forth almost as if we were sitting around her kitchen table with supper long over.
One day the focus was on the poems her daughter Becca Ross creates to read to the gathered extended family on occasions such as birthdays and weddings. Another time, with two of Maryann’s high school-age grandchildren present, everyone chimed in about favorite books.
The day I asked about reading aloud, Maryann’s son Wid happened to be in the office. You may know him as the operator of his big barge, the Charles Bradley. Well, Maryann and Wid became animated in a flash. Their favorite read-alouds were – and still are – stories in verse from Holman F. Day’s books, “Up in Maine” and “Pine Tree Ballads.” Mother and son went at it. Just as fast as one would start a favorite ballad, such as “The Pants Jemimy Made” or “Aunt Shaw’s Pet Jug,” the other one would join in, and there was no stopping them. Sitting between them with my bill and open checkbook, I sat mesmerized.
Maryann said, “When the power went out for four days, you had to think of something to entertain the children. Or when you had to drive all the way to Eastport with a car full of little children, you needed to keep them occupied.” With that, she started to recite “The Fox and the Goose.”
Wid was one of those children who had learned the poem on the ride to Eastport. Now, in the office of the Walls Coal Co., he recited with his mother, right through to the last line, “They ate the old gray goose up, without fork or knife.” Then they laughed and added in one voice, “and no spoon.” The phrase was once called out by one of the grandchildren and ever since has been included in the Minctons’ telling of the story. To this day, Wid said, when the electricity goes out, he and his daughter light a candle in their cabin in the woods and they take turns reading aloud from “Up in Maine.”
Did people read aloud to you once upon a time? Do you read aloud to children and adults now? The iPod, the cell phone, the television, the videos, MySpace – they can wait.