Monday, September 15, 2014

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, by Alice Ozma

Any reader would want to like The Reading Promise. After all, it's the true story of a single father who, afraid that his 10-year-old daughter would soon stop wanting him to read aloud to her (as her older sister had), started a challenge: he and his daughter Alice would see if they could make time for reading aloud for 100 days in a row. "The streak," as the two called it, ended after 2,318 days, when Alice went off to college.

The book, however, is more a collection of vignettes of Alice's childhood than an in-depth look at the reading promise. Some of the vignettes--especially those about reading and Alice's relationship with her dad James--are charming. For example, when Alice discovers that her father has heavily edited the dialogue in Cynthia Voigt's Dicey Song because he does not want to read aloud about puberty, it is touching and funny and real. Many of the stories, however, are seemingly random events from her childhood that are not especially unique--her fish died, the family visited the Franklin Institute and she became interested in an acrobat who was performing, Alice and her dad ate pancakes to celebrate achieving 100 days of reading, etc.  The author's tone in relating these stories suggests that she thinks they are funnier (and she more amusingly eccentric) than I did. This effect may have been heightened by the fact that I listened to the book read by the author, and she uses a voice that seems designed to sound like her 10-year-old self (at the end of the book, when she reads in her adult voice, it is quite different than the voice in which she reads the bulk of the book).

After "the streak" ended, James retired from his job as an elementary school librarian because he was told not to read aloud to the students. I do not doubt that this actually happened, although in my work with schools, I have never come across an elementary school whose staff did not believe in reading aloud to students. They may no longer be able to afford a school librarian, but they believe in reading aloud. So that piece of the story was a disconnect for me.

The book ends with a list of some of the books that James and Alice read during "the streak," which may be useful to some parents.

Overall, the book was disappointing, although I would recommend it for selective reading--i.e., read the vignettes that interest you, skip those that don't.

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