Yesterday afternoon, after Isabelle’s too-short nap, she was leafing through On the Night You Were Born. We talked about the moon and she touched the moon on every page of the book. As we transitioned from reading to getting ready to go swimming, I made a mental note to have that book available before bedtime.
You can never be sure what a toddler will want to read, so I laid out three books as options for our pre-milk/pre-lights-out routine. On the floor was On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman, Sweet Dreams Lullaby by Betsy Snyder, and Tell Me the Day Backwards by Albert Lamb, all of which have become anytime of day favorites in our house. (Though Sweet Dreams Lullaby has been read the most because Isabelle seems to like the rhythm of the words and the illustrations.)
“Which one would you like me to read?” I asked Isabelle who was standing beside me with her arm on my shoulder, her brown hair still wet from her bath.
She said nothing as she eased herself down to the carpet.
“Which one should we read first?” I asked, confident that she’d let me read all three.
She plopped herself down in front of me and grabbed for Tell Me the Day Backwards. She opened the front cover of it and began leafing through the book. I just watched, with pride, at the way she turned the pages of the book from left to right. Just as I was about to give my self that proverbial pat on the back, she closed the back cover of the book, stood up, and walked towards the door.
“Where are you going?” I asked her as she pushed the door handle down. “We’re reading!”
“Da-da-da-da-da-da-da,” she uttered as she toddled off in search of my husband.
“Come back here, Isabelle,” I called as I stood up to go after her.
I found her halfway down the hall when I scooped her up and said, “We’re reading books. Come back!”
I sat her down in my lap and asked, “Which one would you like me to read to you?”
She shimmied off of my lap and grabbed for Tell Me the Day Backwards again.
“Hand it to me,” I said.
She didn’t. Instead she opened the front cover, flipped through the pages of the book (from left to right, thank you very much), closed the back cover, stood up and went to the door again.
Oh, the joys of having a child who walks! (This is a recent occurrence, so I’m navigating through what it means to have a truly mobile child.)
I went after her again. I told her: “we’re reading books” again. I closed the door to her room again.
This time, I put her in a different part of her room — next to her glider. I grabbed Sweet DreamsLullaby, which I thought would be a sure-thing, I began reading aloud. Did she grab for the book? No. Did she come over and stand next to me? No. Did she sit down next to me? No. Instead, she stood up next to her glider and babbled. While part of me was tempted to stop (I knew she could barely hear me over her own babbles.), I didn’t. I kept on reading. I’m sure someone observing the scene from the outside might’ve told me to let it play out differently, but there was no one there to tell me what else to do. So, I just kept on reading.
When I finished the book, I scooted over closer to Isabelle. She got quieter. Instead of saying anything else to her about reading and being a good listener, I decided to reread Sweet Dreams Lullaby to her. This time she listened a bit more and babbled a lot less. (Perhaps it was because I was closer to her so she was able to see the pictures.)
It’s hard to know the “right” thing to do when you just want to read your child a book. After all, children need to hear a lot of books in order to become readers themselves. While my daughter normally loves to read, last night she didn’t want to listen to a book read aloud. But, I read aloud anyway. While it wasn’t a meaningful read aloud, she still heard a book read aloud (twice), which is better than the words she never would’ve heard read aloud had I given up when she walked out of the room a second time.
Reading to a toddler isn’t always easy. I’m starting to think that persistence might be the name of the game.