Travel with kids: Family reading

Aug 14, 2008 at 4:07 p.m. ET

Traveling as a family often means sharing tighter quarters than usual. Whether it's in a hotel, a cabin by the lake or a tent, you're together in every way, and the standards at home don't -- just can't! -- apply.

Family Reading
At home at bedtime, I read to Sunshine, my husband reads to Woody (yes, still, but books at a much higher level than he'd read to himself -- Beowolf, for example), and Alfs reads to himself. On vacation, this scenario is just not possible. While Alfs could read with his own headlamp in the tent or by the campfire or even in the bathroom at the hotel (he's done that), how would I read to Sunshine and my husband read to Woody without thoroughly interrupting each other? We've tried it, and it just doesn't work.

Sharing more than space

After some thought about this, I decided we would try something completely different. While everyone will have their own books for other times of the day or in the car, bedtime will be about a family read. A book that my husband and I will take turns reading, to all of us, over the course of the vacation.

When I suggested this to the family, they were skeptical at first. They wondered how it would work, and even why. They tried to brainstorm how we could each have our own books at bedtime and be read to and all that, but eventually came to the same conclusion I did. Finally Woody told me that he thought a family read was a really good idea. I think he realized he wasn't losing anything, but might actually gain in the process.

Next came the question of what to read. That was the hurdle that might have brought the whole plan down.

Careful literary choices

After deciding we'd try a family read, and getting buy-in from the kids, I went to the bookstore. With kids of such disparate ages (4, 8, 12) and tastes (princesses, science fiction, sports biographies), I knew I had to stick with a classic.

I knew it couldn't be too scary or too tame, too girly or too boy, too short or too long. It couldn't be "too" any one thing. And it couldn't be anything my boys had already been through -- which eliminated all of Roald Dahl and CS Lewis, among others. I looked at books I remember from my childhood and had suggestions from my husband from his childhood. Nothing seemed right, however. I was disappointed, and I was afraid my grand idea was a complete bust.

But then, kneeling down and looking at he lowest shelf, at the end of the alphabet, I saw EB White's Charlotte's Web. That was it. I don't know why we never got to that book with the boys, but certainly it would still entertain them. And it would be fine for Sunshine, too. We could talk about deeper subtexts with the boys while keeping it simple with their sister. Pleased, I purchased it and took it home.

Alfs made a face at first when he opened the bag, but admits now he's looking forward to hearing the story. So is Woody and so is Sunshine. And so are my husband and me. We are all looking foward to sharing a story. If we really get into it, we may even finish the book before we finish vacation - in which case we can stop by a bookstore for another family read.

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