For our lunch time read aloud sessions during December, I try to read a book that is more Christmas-y than our usual fare. Our favorite December read has been The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. (I wrote more about in my post about Christmas books.) Last Monday, I blithely went to the bookshelf with our Christmas books to pull it out so we could enjoy it again. And it wasn't there. As I thought about it, I couldn't actually remember seeing it when we brought our Christmas books out of storage. This must mean it didn't go into storage last January. It makes me wonder where it will turn up. In any case, I didn't have it to read. We needed a new plan.
My new plan involved Charles Dickens. All my children were a little older and anther year of English under their belt. My older people were about the same age when we drove across the country and listened to the complete and unabridged Oliver Twist. It was time to read A Christmas Carol. So that is what we have been doing. It is incredibly gratifying to be reading and come to a place in the story that you find particularly witty and realize that some of your children are also chuckling. Most people seem to be enjoying it. L. is amenable enough to listen to it in the daytime, but absolutely refuses to allow us to discuss the book at dinner time after the sun has gone down. She finds it too scary which shows both that she is understanding the story and that she has a fantastic imagination. (Not that we doubted her imagination at any point in her existence.)
I personally love Dickens. (And boy did he have a sweet deal getting paid by the word. I could clean up if that system were still in place. Imagine... I could be even wordier!) I love his use of language. I love his humor. I love his ability to develop characters. I've also discovered that I love reading his stories out loud even more. I read fast and do have a tendency to skim a bit. When you are reading out loud, skimming is not possible, so you don't inadvertently miss something. I've read this story before, but missed this wonderful line. It's from when Scrooge is heading home and Dickens is describing what his life outside his office is like.
"They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again."
You can just picture it, can't you.
My children may not catch everything in the story and we may have to stop occasionally so I can explain something that confuses someone, but it can never heard to be exposed to that level of language. Dickens (and all the other Victorian writers) write sentences and use vocabulary that are much more complex than we come across in any modern medium. It takes more mental effort to make sense of them and reading them (or listening to them being read) is like a workout for the brain. And like all other exercise, it may be difficult at first, but as the brain becomes accustomed to it, understanding comes much easier.