The Joys of Storytime by Deb Jenny

When I was growing up there weren’t quite the infinite number of books available to the reading public that there are now. Granted there were the usual standbys, all the classics, of course. I devoured the Nancy Drew mysteries, the Little House on the Prairie series, the Little Women books, Anne of Green Gables, and such. Even during school there were those books that stuck with me: I adored the scandalous Candide. Lysistrata as well (who knew way back then women actually conspired to cut off sex to get what they wanted?).

But it probably wasn’t till high school that a book would forge a lasting impact on me, and it wasn’t even a book I read. That’s when I studied Latin with Mr. Bush, and each year at Christmas time, Mr. Bush would drop everything and read.

Now, those of you with school-aged children might have experienced the Drop Everything and Read Program. It’s a wonderful day set aside at elementary schools for kids to enjoy having stories read to them. Often children show up to school in their pajamas and slippers; the day is very free-flowing and relaxed, and it’s all about sinking into a good book. I loved those DEAR days for my kids, as did they.

I suppose Mr. Bush was a little ahead of his time (and a little past prime with a bunch of high schoolers!), but each year during the weeks leading up to Christmas vacation, instead of making us translate and interpret the Aeneid or the Odyssey or speeches from Julius Caesar (and yes, we did read those!), Mr. Bush would read aloud excerpts from a wonderful memoir by Jean Shepherd, titled In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.

You may be familiar with Mr. Shepherd and not even know it: he is the narrator in the charming holiday film A Christmas Story, set in the 1940’s in a midwestern town in which a young boy yearns desperately for a Red Ryder BB gun from Santa, even though the adults in his life insist it’s too dangerous and he’ll shoot his eye out. This movie was drawn from Jean Shepherd’s evocative memoir, a story so simple yet charming and engrossing that it has lingered with me more than 25 years after it was read to me by my teacher.

There is such a singular pleasure in having someone read a story to you, and to have the pleasure of being able to read aloud to someone else. Now that my kids are teenagers, I greatly miss those intimate moments of sharing in books together. In fact, the final episode in the Harry Potter series was doubly bittersweet to me, because when the book first came out, I read it aloud to my oldest child, then a small boy, and with each successive book, the younger girls joined in. With this final book, all of my kids were too old and too busy to figure out a time during which we could all read it together, which made me feel wistful–the end of an era and the end of one of those simple joys of life. I guess until they have kids (which better not be for a good long time!).

In the meantime, I suppose the closest I’ll come to have someone reading me a story is to pop in my tape of A Christmas Story, and let Mr. Shepherd take me back to a simpler time, when all I had to worry about were declining verbs in Latin and oh, maybe having to read that dreadful Ethan Frome

15 Replies to “The Joys of Storytime by Deb Jenny”

  1. I love reading with my three year old Benny and i’m trying to savor every moment! My husband and I also read together when we can find the time. There’s something so comforting and fun about sharing a book aloud together. I’m also a complete audiobook junkie (i download all the time from and love to be read to when I’m at the gym.

  2. Great post Jenny! Brought me back to the same memory of reading the first Harry Potter to my oldest and now my son (who was a baby at the time) is reading the newest one to himself. Unbelievable!

  3. Deb Jen, there is such delish pleasure in reading aloud. I read “Leo the Late Bloomer” and “The Giving Tree” regularly to my girls. Let’s see how much Mr. Bush taught you. Can you translate SEMPER UBI SUB UBU?? Kim

  4. Joanne–that is so sweet that you and your husband read aloud to each other! I’m jealous!
    And Kim–I LOVE Leo the Late Bloomer πŸ˜‰ . We used to read that to our kids all the time. And The Giving Tree –I cannot read that without crying. I’m such a softie πŸ˜‰
    Oh, BTW, I remember you threw that latin phrase at me before. Let me see if I can translate again: always wear underwear!!! I still got it πŸ˜‰

  5. I don’t get to read aloud anymore and it is sad. One of my first memories is my mother reading to me and my 4 brothers and sisters. We all used to sit around her and she’d read us fairytales. It’s a great memory.

  6. Deb Jenny,

    You’ve really hit upon what makes a good book great: its ability to be read aloud. I’ve found that my favorite works, when spoken, all sound like poetry in their own ways. Great observation!

    Therese Gilardi

  7. There’s something about having a book read aloud to you…when I was a kid, I demanded my parents read one book in particular so frequently (The Rescuers, based on the Disney movie) that they actually hid it from me!

    Growing up, I didn’t have DEAR, but my school did have SSR: “Sustained Silent Reading.” Ah, the acronyms.

  8. We have that same Harry Potter memory! My husband read the first two to my son and daughter and now of course they’re reading it on their own. I confess, I am behind in my Harry Potter reading and people are starting to use inside HP jokes so I better catch up. I have just re-read Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman and she is just a Goddess among writers in my opinion. Her detail is so rich! Before Secret life of Bees came Turtle Moon, believe me. She did a wonderful young adult novel called Water Tales which is fabulous. The story Aquamarine was turned into a Disney movie but obviously the story is rich in detail that the movie doe not have. I have a weakness for mermaid stories

    But the definitive reads of my youth came when I found Anya Seton and her heart-wrenching historical novels, Katherine, and The Winthrop Woman. That was when I started thinking about writing a novel. Those and Girl of the Limber Lost by Gene Stratton-Porter sent me on a journey reading older books intended for young adults- Grace Harlowe, etc. Just so cool to read remnants of another era for me.

    I actually love what is coming out right now for young adults- a few gems among the many stones out there, no doubt! I’m feeling compelled to finish the one I’ve started writing! Good memories Jenny…. books, our best friends. Suz

  9. Thanks Edie, Therese, Jess, Suze and Larramie for your comments.
    Not long ago we cleared out our bookshelves in the playroom and purged plenty of books to which we had no attachment, but we saved a LOT, and the kids and I vowed to sit down and re-read all of those children’s books we so adored reading together. I guess we’d better get to it, as my oldest will be graduating from high school this year!

  10. We never had “drop everything and read”, but I wish we had! Mind you, I never needed much prompting to do exactly that.

    I can’t wait to share my favorite books with my daughter. I actually read Alice in Wonderland to her earlier this year, but she’s no longer patient enough to just sit and listen–she has her own favorite books and knows how to demand them! I had hopes of reading Hamlet to her later this year, but I’m not quite sure how it’ll happen. Maybe we’ll just work on “To be or not to be” and leave it at that.

    And we will have a great time with Harry Potter. (18 months is too early for that too, isn’t it…)

  11. Jenny, again, we have MUCH in common! Also did the Latin thng in highschool, also read Shepherd, and lots of other stuff hit home πŸ™‚

    But as far as your comment about Lysistrata, uh, I figured that the second we learned how to make fire, we learned how to use sex to get what we wanted. MAKE ME A FIRE!!!!! πŸ˜‰

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