I've been reading chapter books to the kids every night. I try to pick books that my 4 year old boy, 7 year old girl, and 11 year old girl will all enjoy, but truthfully the 4 year old doesn't always make out so well. We've read through the Chronicles of Narnia, the first three Harry Potter books, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, and contemporary books by people I admire and people I know (which is so fun), like Jonathon Stroud's Heroes of the Valley (a book my 7 year old loved so much she named her sparkly red betta fish Sven - we won't discuss the tragedy of Sven's life span here), or The Incorrigibles of Ashton Place about three children who were raised by wolves and are now in the care of a very austere young governness.
Just now, I've started The Hobbit. As I got started, I wondered if I remembered much of it, or if I was confusing it with Lord of the Rings that I'd read (and seen) many more times. As Bilbo was inundated with dwarvish guests and heading out on his adventure I thought maybe I was misremembering things. I thought for sure they were about to run into three trolls and have a fight of some kind, but I pictured it so differently than where the adventurers were now, I thought I must be mistaken.
And then. Bam. Trolls. Out of nowhere, or so I thought. I looked back into my mind and realized, that I did remember Bilbo journeying out of the shire and into the path of three trolls around a campfire. But in my mind's eye they were journeying down hill, from left to right, and then found themselves in the trolls camp. But as I read the book many years later, they were going uphill, from right to left, and I drew the landscape differently, and so the trolls took me completely by surprise. I had similar experiences rereading the Chronicles of Narnia. I'd read them enough times to know I hadn't forgotten anything, but I realized that as I read them as a kid, I saw the pictures and felt the imagery so much more deeply, especially in the underground lair of the Green Lady. As an adult, I felt the character's conflicts and disputes and connected on an emotional level so that the scenery took a backseat to how they felt and treated one another. I've always been taught that what the reader brings to a story is so important, but I hadn't had the experience before of bringing different things to the same story, as the same person, but standing in a different place in life.
Yesterday, I snapped a picture of my oldest daughter with my phone.
She said, "Is that going on Facebook?"
"Yes," I said.
"Sitting in the car doing homework after a volleyball game while my sister does hula?" She said, quoting word for word the caption I was about to type.
"Uh, yes," I said.
"I know you," she said, smugly.
And she does know me, quite well, probably better than she knows anyone else she's met in her 11 years. But my mother knows me also, quite well, possibly better than anyone, and so does my husband. And yet, they know me differently. And I imagined my daughter looking at me as someone might look up from the bottom of a hill to the top, because I'm older and taller and in her world more powerful than she is. And others must know me as though standing from a different place in the mountain.
I thought it's a good thing to keep in mind with friends that I feel like I understand, because I only understand them in this moment in time, in this situation, looking at them from the side of the mountain where I stand, and bringing my own perspective. Their trolls might take me by surprise, or I might be expecting trolls and be taken by surprise to only find hobbits.
And of course there's the writing... I feel like a really good children's book is a joy for children and parents alike. Some kids' movies try to do this with humor meant to fly over the kids' heads. But you can write in layers with imagery that captures the children's imagination and relationships that make adults think and ponder their own friendships and reactions. The words can make the children feel larger than life and they can please adults as they flow rhythmically and effortlessly off their tongue as they read aloud.
I love that books can make us think like this. And we're only on chapter four of Bilbo's grand adventure. There's so much more to learn as we journey there and back again!
*image released into the public domain by Wikipedia user "Arun Nowhere"