As a writer and writing professor and VORACIOUS reader, it’s very difficult for me not to influence my children’s choices on books. So when Bailey, age 11 – grade 6, came home two weeks ago and said he needed to read “something historical” for a book report this month, my brain whirred at a thousand miles an hour. I first suggested The Diary of Anne Frank, partially because I knew my friend Bonnie’s daughter Julia is reading it in grade 6 in Maryland. But he nixed it, saying that someone else in class is reading it. Then I handed him a copy of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Zusak’s book is technically in the Young Adult category of literature, but it’s something I read in my book club with a bunch of decidedly grown-up women. It’s a story about a young girl in 1930’s/1940’s Germany who loses her mother and brother and goes to live with a foster family. The family hides a Jew in the time Liesl, the main character is there. Also in that time, Liesl learns to read, and falls in love with books, which she steals as often as she can from various sources. The book is in the third person, but expertly narrated by a personification of Death, who at every turn, laments how busy he is these days.
Bailey wanted to read the book. I’m not sure if at first he just wanted to please me, or impress his teacher with his choice, but after the first few days, he was reading it and understanding it, and getting into the language and rhythms of the story. At first I was upset at myself because I unduly influenced him. But then I realized that he loves the challenge of it – and both the teacher and I offered him an “out” if he didn’t want to continue with it after hte first few days of trying. Brilliantly, since the book is so good, he took it out of his school’s library to keep in his locker to read when he has time at school, and has another copy at home that he reads nightly.
So recently, since he has started this adventure, I put Sydney (age 8, grade 3) to bed, and then Bailey and I enjoy 45+ minutes together companionably reading.
What am I reading? I read Susan Isaacs As Husbands Go and also A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick. Both are excellent books, the former being a mystery, and the latter being a real character study about people and their motivations. I’ve just started The Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
But what I’m reading doesn’t matter at all. What I love is that we are both curled up at opposite ends of my big, brown, leather, library couch, sometimes under a blanket and sometime not. Sometimes Bailey asks a question or sometimes he makes a comment about something he’s read. But more often than not, it’s just companionable silence.
My son is growing up and I’m so proud of him – how hard he works and the choices he makes. And selfishly, I’m really enjoying this little, precious time we have together. It’s really my kind of time – reading. I have a feeling that we’ll now be doing it long after this book report is handed in in two weeks.