I have at least twice in the past reported with glee that my kids had graduated to chapter books, and at least twice, somewhat later, failed to mention that it was short-lived. I don’t know what it is: chapter books have been hard to get our teeth into. Maybe the boys just haven’t been ready, or maybe I’ve tried the wrong books.
Some time ago I decided to optimistically put all our younger chapter books onto a shelf in the boys’ room. This was more to do with logistics and space issues, but I also thought that exposure to the books was a good thing — maybe Nathan, who reads plenty well, would pick one up one day and get hooked. And eventually he did start asking me to read the first chapters of various books during our bedtime reading, but he rarely asked for a second chapter the next day, and I was well aware that the length of my reading was the primary draw for him. Both boys seems like to keep me in their room as long as possible, even if they’re apparently ignoring me.
And then there was “Charlotte’s Web.”
We’d tried the first chapter before, but this time when I read it he seemed really interested. Within a few days he asked for the second chapter. Then the third. And every night for the last two weeks he’s wanted a chapter, sometimes wheedling a second one out of me. It’s sort of awesome, but I admit that from the very beginning I was a little worried about this choice. I love the story but there’s no getting around the fact that at the end of the book Charlotte dies.
Now granted, there are huge silver linings to the story, and of course death-is-part-of-life, and Charlotte’s babies would be hatching… But I couldn’t help but wonder how my guys would take her death. Then again, it isn’t like “Where the Red Fern Grows,” which I didn’t read until I was an adult and found absolutely heart-rending (and no, I don’t count the “well, your beloved dogs are dead, I guess you can go off to school” as a silver lining ending). “Charlotte’s Web” is really a very gentle tale, and I sometimes think that the more modern, ultra-sanitized stories we give kids are… let’s just say not very compelling.
One afternoon we sat outside in the spring sunshine and read the last three chapters. And it seemed to go well; Ryan was a little worried about Charlotte’s death, but he listened quietly and went to play afterwards without any discernible unhappiness. When the last word had been read, Nathan even remarked that he’d have to choose a new chapter book that night.
He didn’t; he chose to have tell our own stories to each other instead. We’ll see what comes next. Personally I’m voting for “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”