After the interview

I was interviewed by a local television station in Richmond this week.  The morning show on Fox.  It’s not the first time – but my emotions and reactions were different this time.

1) It’s just TV.  And it’s not the first time.  Who even watches TV anymore?  It hardly feels like it’s a topic of conversation these days – the way it used to.  Unless that just dates me.  Because of course I’m wrong.  Of course people still watch TV.  Sure they watch more channels.  And they ‘watch’ or consume other media forms too.  The audience is highly diffuse and dispersed.  But I’m still fortunate to be there – to have a platform – to have an audience that might be interested.  Like a musician performing his best songs for an unknown audience – I still need to be up and ready and give it my best.  And I did.

2) Part of me is self conscious about doing that at all.  It is important to me to be asked for my opinion, my point of view, my expertise – not to over-aggressively offer my opinion, advice, anecdotes unsolicited.  But I know that’s not entirely true either.  I know that some people want to be entertained.  I know that some people want answers – even if they’re unsure of what questions they’re asking.  And I really know that I have a message worth sharing.  It’s not just a do-gooder’s message about eating healthy.  (Although it is that, too.)  I know that dozens, scores, hundreds, thousands of families will be enthused about reading aloud – whether they’re just doing it more, or more often, or if they’re doing it for the first time.  My message is worth it.  It’s not only worth offering – even unsolicited.  It’s worth pushing.  If there’s a TV audience out there – it’s eager to be pushed.

3) Late in the interview I committed what felt like a mistake.  I mentioned my son. He’s only 3. And I mentioned that we play the movie line game – and even the book line game – together.

Was that wrong?

In one sense it’s not.  I have certainly mentioned my own children – including my still young son – often enough in this blogging arena.  And where else does one find the anecdotes and apercus about reading aloud but from one’s own experience?

But in another sense I must be cautious.  Wary.  Careful.  When I am being interviewed – it’s not about me. (Or my family.) It’s about the families we’re reaching.

A step further – I must be careful to come off right.  I am educated, articulate, sometimes academic, can be intimidating.  And my children are – comparatively – privileged.  They grow up in a highly literate, articulate household.  I don’t want to come off wrong.  I don’t want anyone to turn away because my own children’s experiences can’t be relevant to their own.

But with enough reflection I realize that this is in fact the whole game right here.  In fact, I shouldn’t be embarrassed about sharing both what I know and have learned and the experiences and anecdotes of my own kids.  It’s what I’m here for.  It’s what I do.

Let me explain.

a) In fact lots of families are eager for answers and information – for stories and inspiration – eager in fact to be told what to do and how to do it.  I know this because of the untold millions of dollars spent by our federal government and untold number of earnest non-profits (like our own) trying to reach out and help – to enable and to make our world a better place.  I know because parents and families ask.  They read parenting magazines and are hungry for tips – parenting tips on all and sundry.  They call and write and ask questions – Am I doing it right? What else should I do?  Do you have any ideas for this?  It’s what parents talk about on the playground and at the gym.  How do you handle this?  What are you doing about that?  I know because they ask us, too. They ask even the most elementary questions about where to find book lists and what books to read.  I shouldn’t be embarrassed or humble about sharing what I know.  We all can’t know about everything – and I know a lot about this (this reading aloud thing).  Parents do want to know.  They should. And they do.

b) I also know from my own experience.  If I share Ready McFie’s ardor for the movie line game – I know it can come off show-offy.  (And I know what it’s like to be repelled by the show-offy parent.  I DON’T want to be that parent – and certainly not on TV.)  But I know from experience how other kids respond to the movie line game.  And so I know it’s worth sharing.

You see this, in fact, is where the trivia questions come from.  They – the idea behind them – their impetus – come from the very questions (or type of questions) I ask my own kids when we have read books together.  Or long after we have read books together.  It’s one of the ways we interact and communicate.  It is our vernacular.  A way to celebrate the books.  To challenge each other.  To re-access and re-live in the choice detailed pleasurable worlds and moods and atmospheres those books create.  But it doesn’t stop there.

I can recall countless times I have shared the same with my children’s friends.  At parties.  In the car.  Carpooling all those countless places we end up taking our own and other people’s kids.  Invariably other children are quickly fascinated and enthused by movie or book trivia.  I test and feint to locate their level of knowledge and understanding – what books and flics they know well.  For some of them it takes a little getting used to.  But for almost all of them they sit up – are more alert – they’re brains are thinking too – they want to play the game.

And that’s what tells me how good and healthy and stimulating and right it is for other children – other people’s children – everyone’s children.  It’s not me telling you to eat your vegetables.  It’s just me sharing that I know kids LOVE this kind of stimulating, get-the-most-out-of-popular-culture celebration.  I know how to do it.  And I want you to, too.
But that is not all.  (‘Oh no, that is not all’…quoted from what picture book? A: The Cat in the Hat.)

It all goes double for the movie line game.  One kind of trivia question I love to put in the OSOB book packets are “Who said?” questions.  Children spring up animated to try to answer these questions.  The questions put kids’ imaginations right back in the book. They scramble all over each other to recapitulate the scenes and moments and characters who create certain lines of dialogue.  I especially like choosing dialogue that is not obvious.  Redolent, memorable – but on the edge of memory.  So they have to work a little to remember and re-imagine and recreate.  The effort is worth it as their satisfaction and pride are all the greater.  Their enthusiasm and celebration is brought forth.

And children – even my bred-in-the-bone 3-year-old – especially cotton on to the movie line game.  They can play it too.  It is somehow easier for them to come up with lines from movies than it is from books – even from movies they haven’t seen in a year.  (Perhaps because it’s easier – part of our generation’s parenting culture – to see and re-see favorite movies.) Children make the transition quickly – eagerly – and start to ask their own “Who said?” questions riffing the movie-line game.

c) So what was Ready McFie’s book line? It started when we were reading Charlotte’s Web. The night before Wilbur meets Charlotte she actually speaks to him from the rafters in the darkness. Wilbur can’t see her – doesn’t know who she is – doesn’t even know what kind of animal she is – doesn’t know where to look. She says good night to Wilbur intoning, “I’ll see you in the morning.” Wilbur goes to sleep that night pondering the mystery – eager to learn the identity of his mystery friend.

Well Ready McFie – the eager listener – went to the bed the same way. (This is, of course, a classic read aloud scenario. The tired child eager to hear more. Sometimes asking for one more chapter. Sometimes recognizing the safety of their fatigue, but happy they have something to look forward to the next day.) He woke up the next morning – and he remembered the line. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he quoted. He made the line his. It was a talisman of the book for him. He has quoted it many times since.

And that’s how you play the book line game. You try to think of lines from books – and see if your interlocutors can identify the character who spoke it; the title of the book it’s from; the author. Sometimes it’s even fun to recall moments of dialogue – and see if your child, friend, colleague can finish the conversation.

Try one: From the Disney film, The Emperor’s New Groove. (this sequence may be familiar to you from the trailer) David Spade/Llama: “Let me guess. We’re about to go over a huge waterfall.” John Goodman/Peruvian peasant: “Yup.” Spade: “Sharp rocks at the bottom?” Goodman: “Most likely.” And how does Spade finish the exchange? “Bring it on.”

An easy one: “That Sam-I-am. That Sam-I-am. I do not like that Sam-I-am.” Too easy right? (Green Eggs and Ham, of course.)

How about: “Kaplink. Kaplank. Kaplunk.” A little harder, I hope. From Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey.

Moving up a little: “Wow. That’s about all they could say was ‘Wow.”  [Kevin Henkes’ Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse.]

How about a chapter book: “Excuse me?” “Excuse me?” “Excuse me?” [That’d be the Warden in Louis Sachar’s Holes – a line (and method of delivery) all kids remember and love in fear – memorably played by Sigourney Weaver in the film adaptation.]

Closer to home: “How can you whip cream without whips?” A toughie, eh? Try it on one of your e.s. kids. It’s Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (explaining about the Whip Room to Veruca Salt)

You can play this game forever – with movies or books. We just watched The Lion King for the first time. We’re playing it now. “I’ll tell you when we get there.” (Simba, to Nala.)  “Ix-nay on the upid-stay.” (Zazu, to Simba)  “It is time.” (Rafiki)  “Remember.  Remember who you are.” (Mufasa, to Simba)

One more? “I know what I said. Listen to what I’m saying now!” (Character? Movie?) [Elastigirl/Holly Hunter; The Incredibles.]

You can play it, too.

And I think – upon reflection – my instinct to share this was right after all – even on TV. It is what I do. We play the movie line game – and the book line game. It is one way we celebrate the books we share. I want you to share books with your families too. What else can I do but share that enthusiasm, that joy, and these methods, too? I just hope it comes off right…on TV.

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