What's Tony Thinking

For Thanksgiving: Give the Gift of Reading Aloud


There was a lovely reflection on the PBS Newshour last night about reading aloud and being read aloud to. Short, definitely worth watching.

I read aloud to my grandchildren. A lot. Currently, seven-year-old Colin and I are reading a wonderful adventure story from the Scottish Isle of Skye, The Hill of the Red Fox. 

Lila is into princess stories. Levi has discovered the world of Harry Potter. Cora and Olive are more in the scratch and sniff genre.

In the Newshour piece, author Kate Dicamillo emphasized the joy of reading aloud to people of all ages.

At a recent gathering with friends and colleagues we each brought along three poems to read to one another. It was a wonderful time of reading and listening, pondering and responding.

As a pastor I often used to read aloud to the very elderly or very ill, usually from the Bible. With the very familiar passages, often the person I read to might be seen to mouth the words with me.

For Christmas all of us seem have a number of read aloud staples, chiefly “The Night Before Christmas,” “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” and possibly “A Christmas Carol.” Along with these, let me suggest lesser known Robinson family favorites, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

For Thanksgiving? Do we have read aloud material for this holiday? For that time after dinner when the tryptophan in the turkey is lulling everyone to sleep? Or when we are too tired of watching football to stand another game. Might we be open to a read-aloud?

Here are some suggestions, some Biblical and some otherwise, for Thanksgiving reading aloud.

Biblical Chestnuts:

The 23rd Psalm. Forget the funeral associations and hear it as it is and is meant, a stirring and defiant statement of deep trust.

Or another chestnut, sung as “Turn, Turn, Turn,” Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8. “For everything there is a season.” When someone asks, “What does that mean?” just smile.

Or the Beatitudes, from Matthew 5: 1 – 12. Again, decline to explain or justify. Just read them aloud, slowly, lovingly.

Or I Corinthians 13: 1 – 13. Paul’s hymn to love. “But the greatest of these is love.”

Yes, all four are familiar to many. But one of the great gifts of our post-Christian time, is that to another many they are unknown, terra incognito. Just ask, “Would you like to hear some deep words, some really old wisdom?”

And if you don’t know your way around the Bible, that’s okay. Remember that there is a table of contents in the front of most to help you find a particular book.

And the non-biblical? Possibilities are endless, really. I like to read poetry to adults. Here are several poems I shared at the aforementioned gathering, poems I love:

“At Least” by Raymond Carver

“Otherwise” by Jane Kenyon, or

“A Ritual To Read To Each Other” by William Stafford

And, of course, anything by Mary Oliver, Marge Piercy, Denise Levertov or Billy Collins.

Any of E. B. White’s children’s story, e.g. Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, or Stuart Little. Or those by Beverly Cleary are great for a wide variety of ages. For a little older try Ursula La Guin.

Kate Dicamillo is right, there’s magic in reading aloud, in being read aloud to. We do it every Sunday in church. Sometimes well. Often not very well. But it is one place that it happens. Good on us.

Thanksgiving might be another good time or place for a read aloud. Invite people to bring a poem or short story or brief essay to share. Almost anything by Anne Lamott works or Annie Dillard.

Take my suggestions. Or come up with your own. Look for a book of great short stories. Or, as with everything these days, check on-line. Enter, “Good Read Aloud Stories” in a search engine. More than you can begin to use.

Don’t worry too much about being edifying. Just spin the magic that a good story does. Read, listen and give thanks.

And a Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. Tony





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