My oldest kid is an avid reader: she reads at school obviously, but also in the evening after school, and under the covers at night :). I try to encourage that as much as I can.
As part of our evening rituals, my wife and I each read a chapter of a book to both of our kids. It may be a bit of a long evening routine, but it’s an opportunity to be together, to hear French and Hungarian, to learn new words, to hear us read and thus learn to read aloud.
I enjoy that ritual. It’s especially good when reading for my 9 y-o, because we can read bigger novels and suspenseful stories.
A few months ago, I dug through some of my old stuff and found some of my childhood books. Among those, Lassie Come-Home and several Famous Five novels. I remembered loving those as a kid: a series of books about young children who go on adventures, discover secret tunnels and hidden treasures. That was perfect reading material for our evening stories!
After reading a few, it turns out it wasn’t perfect. We still read them all, but we regularly had to stop and talk about some of the details.
The Famous Five books were written between the 40s and the 60s, and it shows. Gender, class, race,… Lots of things to explain and discuss.
- The 2 girls of the group, Annie and Claude, are viewed very differently. Annie is a girl, she is weak and easily frightened, she plays with tools, helps her aunt cook and clean up. Claude is a tomboy. She is strong, spends her time with the boys. When she does something good, she is rewarded by being compared to a boy. When she does wrong, she is a girl.
- The kids’ parents are middle class. They have a maid / housekeeper. Other kids they meet in their adventures are always of working class, call the kids “monsieur” or “maître”, just like the maid does. The villains are also almost always of lower class.
- You also get some pretty bad racial stereotypes. Romani are part of multiple stories, and often pictured as the villains, robbers, …
It’s not all bad of course. Lili really enjoyed the books, and they were an opportunity to talk about how the world changed. We even got to read re-editions of some of the books in the series, thanks to our local library. Just like the works of Roald Dahl, the Famous Five books were also changed a bit over the years.
Overall, if you get the chance I’d still recommend those books, as long as you don’t let your kids read them on their own.
We also read Lassie Come-Home, another book from my childhood. Another old book, not without its faults, but really good nonetheless. It’s not just the journey of a dog: it’s a powerful emotional story about family, friendship, loyalty. The hardships the parents had to go through and their reactions really touched me, and I found myself crying uncontrollably in front of the kids at the end of the book! I had to explain that sometimes people cry out of happiness. 🙂
I thought I remembered that book, but clearly I had missed a lot of the story when reading it as a kid! I am glad I got to read it again with the kids.
And now, we’re back to reading more recent stories. This week, we’re reading L’herboriste de Hoteforais, from Nathalie Somers!