Be Prepared

Be Prepared

How to Make the Time.  That’s Tip #2 from my list of ten reading tips.  In order to read aloud consistently, and especially to be able to start and finish chapter books, you have to make the time.  You have to preserve the time, commit to the time, exploit the time.

But you also have to be ready, to be alert and spontaneous – extemporaneous – to take advantage of idle moments with little to do together but read aloud.  To that end, I recommend bringing a book with you wherever you go.  Whatever book you are presently reading with your child or children, or even whatever book you hope to read next.  Just throw it in your pocket book or knapsack or into the car whenever you’re heading out to do errands or on an outing.  You never know when you’re going to get held up and have some downtime.  And downtime, even when it’s unexpected – some would say especially when it’s unexpected – is an ideal time to read aloud.  An ideal opportunity to snatch a few chapters.

You may get a flat tire and have an hour to kill before the tow truck gets there.  You may be at the doctor’s office (or any waiting room) and have an unknown period of time to wait.  You may be in traffic.  You just never know when you’re going to be granted an extra 20 minutes you didn’t count on.  And when it comes, don’t curse it.  Grasp it.  Exploit it.  Bless it.

A recent example:

I am a baseball fan.  We have a AAA baseball team in our town and my family – my wife and three daughters – like to go to the games.  When I go to the game, I am a pretty intense fan.  I like to keep score.  But I always bring a book to the game, too.  Not because I might get bored or because baseball is slow.  But because it’s a baseball game and you never know.  You never know when there is going to be downtime, some kind of delay.  I rarely read my book at the game.  (Except when we get there really early for batting practice.)  But I always have it just in case.

When I go with my family I bring a book, too – our family book.  Whatever we happen to be reading.  Have we ever read the book at the game?  I don’t think we have.  There’s just too much to enjoy – the tableaux of the stadium and the game itself.  Until this summer.

We went to a game in July, all set to see the visiting Pawtucket Red Sox.  My daughters came eager to see some of the Red Sox players they know who were currently playing down with the farm team.  We enjoyed batting practice.  One of my daughters managed to get an autograph.  But then an afternoon thunderstorm rolled in.  I actually went out to the car to get our rain gear.  From the parking lot I could see a real bad dark thunderstorm coming in from the west.  I knew this would be a ferocious one, but hopefully brief.

When I returned to our seats, although it was only sprinkling lightly, I suggested we repair to the upper seats well under cover.  I had heard on the radio that the game wouldn’t start until the storm passed through.  So I knew we had at least another half hour – probably more – until the game might start.   My family happily left our seats and we climbed the stadium steps all the way to the top row.  Way high up.  Safe from the rain.

And I took out our book.  We were far from the field, far from the players, essentially removed.  With little else to do.  It helped that our current book happened to be a baseball book, Keeping Score, the newest book by Linda Sue Park, winner of the Newbery Award for A Single Shard.  Nobody objected.  In fact everyone was eager.  And so we read three chapters up there in the top row waiting for the storm to break and pass.

When the storm came, we had a terrific view.  It was indeed ferocious.  We could see our city getting pummeled.  We could see the sheets of rain, windblown and swirling.  We could see light objects torn and whipped in the wind.  But we were safe and dry and content.

As it turns out the game was canceled.  But the day was not a total loss.  We came home and finished our book within the week.

But retain an image of the curious family, up in the top row of the stadium, reading their book, all ears attentive, while the wind brings the rain and the air fills with the tang of thunder.  It was an idyllic, unforgettable, one-time moment for us.  But it serves as a useful reminder:  You never know when you’re going to be given an unexpected opportunity.  So be prepared.

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[Note: In case you’re interested, Linda Sue Park’s Keeping Score is about a young girl, Maggie-O, who lives in Brooklyn in the 1950s.  She roots for Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers and listens to the games on the radio at the firehouse.  One of the firefighters, Jim, teachers her how to keep score (something every baseball fan should know) and it becomes her particular pleasure, something that helps her connect more deeply and fundamentally to the game.  Later, Jim is sent to fight in the Korean War, and Maggie-O maintains a correspondence, through baseball naturally, while he is there.  The novel was perfect for my family.  Despite my earnest efforts to teach my girls how to keep score, it was only Maggie-O and  Linda Sue Park who made them want to.]

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