Literary experiences are wonderful ways to connect with your children.
“Shh, we’re listening,” my 11-year-old son shushed his younger brother. “They said ‘multiple love affairs,’ so I think that means besides Meg and John.”
“Yeah, when is Jo going to get together with Laurie?” broke in his 13-year-old sister.
No, my children are not discussing the latest Netflix series or a graphic novel; they’re discussing Little Women. It’s 7:30 a.m., and we are sitting in front of their school waiting for the carpool line to start.
Let me just say right here that the rest of the time my 11-year-old is likely talking about Pokemon, baseball, or Nintendo like every other 6th grader, and his 13-year-old sister is probably texting her friends. My kids sometimes spend too much time on screens, and they would probably never pick up Louisa May Alcott on their own.
But we do listen to audiobooks. Over the past 10 years, I have listened to probably well over 100 full-length books with my children.
We live in a busy suburban area, and my kids have always gone to a Catholic school 25 minutes away. I quickly realized that to keep my sanity on the drive with up to six kids in our carpool, we had to have some distraction. We did not have the once-standard DVD player in our minivan, and after we started listening to books I purposely never got one.
I personally pick most of the audiobooks, mainly because I don’t want to spend our commute listening to half-baked retellings of Disney fairytales. We have listened to countless classics of children’s literature, and now that my children are older we are expanding into other great works. I started with simple stories like the original Winnie the Pooh and Beatrix Potter. Next were The Chronicles of Narnia and the Ramona books. As the years went on we delved into so many wonderful books and series: everything from The Boxcar Children to Redwall, The Lord of the Rings to Anne of Green Gables.
We have experienced and lived these stories together, I often revisiting them from my childhood and they experiencing them for the first time. Some we have encountered for the first time together and together experienced all the emotional highs and lows.
I cherish these literary experiences, and several particularly stick out in my mind. When we first listened to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and got to the scene where Aslan rises from the dead, a cheer broke out from the back seat of kindergartners. On one road trip there was a mystery story that was so exciting that we literally were shoving the next disc in as fast as we finished the first one. And then there was the day that we finished the final book in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydian series, and we sat in our driveway for 20 minutes while my children sobbed over the ending.
I know that my children have learned history, vocabulary, and writing skills from these books, but that is not the real treasure of these experiences. The real gift is the emotional connections that they establish with literature, the ability to enter into these stories and discern something about their own human condition.
Last fall when we were listening to Little Women, I stood with my 13-year-old in a store while she contemplated how to spend her babysitting money. She sighed as she looked at all the gleaming possibilities tempting her to overspend. “I feel like Meg when she went to visit Sally Moffatt,” she confessed.
I smiled as she stood there making her decision and thought about all the ways that literature has affected my life and all the ways it still does. I watched her make a wise choice and checkout. Then we got back into the car together, where another book was waiting.