My family reads The Hobbit every winter. It started as a Christmas tradition back when my husband and I didn’t have kids. Now it’s just a winter tradition, mostly because everything takes longer with a preschooler. Every night after dinner, we sit down together. My son plays with his toys, and my husband and take turns reading.
It’s funny; every year I swear we won’t do it: we’re too busy, I’m too tired, our kid is too young, and on and on, until I realize we need to read The Hobbit just so we can get our sanity back.
When you have little kids, you’re constantly told you should read to them, a mandate which conjures up images of parents reading Dr. Seuss to children. Children’s books are important, of course, but we’ve found that reading a book the whole family likes meets needs we didn’t realize we had.
Warning: Minor spoilers for The Hobbit.
We spend time together. We’re all together in one room, reading aloud. The first year we decided to read The Hobbit with our son, he was very little, and we didn’t know how he’d react to hearing a long, grown-up story without pictures. He surprised us by enjoying it. He didn’t listen to every word — he mostly played with his toys and climbed on us — but he liked being with us and hearing our voices. He even picked up new words. (Those words were Gandalf and Gollum, so we’re not winning any vocabulary contests at preschool, but still.) Even our pets love it — when they hear us reading, they come out from wherever they’ve been and settle down in the room. (It takes a lot for a cat to want to take a nap near a three-year-old.)
It’s cozy. Reading a book aloud, as a family, on a winter night is about the coziest thing you can possibly do.
Hearing a book is a different than reading it. As anyone who listens to audiobooks of their favorite books can tell you, a story read aloud is processed differently than one you read silently. I can’t explain it, exactly, but having both read The Hobbit solo (several times) and having heard it aloud (several times) I feel like I have a more three-dimensional experience of the story.
You really get to know a story. Sometimes you pick up something on the 50th reading of a book that you didn’t get the previous 49 times. Like, I somehow didn’t notice that Gandalf pulled the same trick with Bilbo (introducing 13 dwarfs in small groups) that he did with Beorn.
It’s just relaxing to be read to. Listen, sometimes Mommy wants someone to read to her.
It’s not Moo Baa La, La, La. No disrespect to Sandra Boynton—we love her—but it’s a nice change to read aloud from a book with grown-up vocabulary. Speaking of which…
The voices! Maybe we’re all frustrated voice actors, but the voices are the best part of reading aloud. My husband and I each have favorite sections to read. He loves the trolls. I love doing Bilbo’s voice when he’s got a cold. Our son loves Gollum.
The in-jokes. You read a book aloud with your family enough times, and you will start to develop your own family headcanon about the characters, which is hilarious… but just to you and your family.
It costs nothing. And it’s not dependent on other outside factors, like internet speeds.
It makes us slow down. This time of year, we spend a lot of time together, but a lot of that time is spent doing things—sometimes, doing two or three different things at once. Reading time is a device-free, chore-free time for the three of us. My husband and I can’t talk about all the things we have to do, because one of us is reading. My kid doesn’t have to worry about things like table manners, because he’s in a room where it’s totally okay to play. And he doesn’t act out, because he’s got our attention. It’s good for all of us. It reconnects us as a family, and that’s my favorite thing of all.
Do you read aloud with your friends, partner, or family? What book do you read? Why do you like it? Share in the comments.