Speaking Books into Life

I used to read out loud to my mom. I was ten, or maybe twelve. The Harry Potter books had become an obsession for me. Was Snape good or bad? Could Dumbledore keep everyone safe now that Voldemort had returned? Would Harry beat Malfoy in the next Quidditch match? These were the questions that consumed my brain, and I had no one to discuss them with.

My mom isn't much of a reader. Despite my badgering, I could never get her on board with reading thousands of pages of books meant for children. So when she was trapped in the car with me, usually on our way to my grandma's house for coffee each Sunday morning, I'd read them to her. 

She liked them. Loved them, actually. Soon every Target run was a chance to squeeze in a few more pages. I started doing voices and speaking in a British accent. (My utter lack of theater skills mean this was every bit as embarrassing as it sounds.) 

I introduced my mom to the magic of Harry one 10-minute car ride at a time. I had successfully shared a story that mattered to me with someone else, and I was ecstatic. 

I can't remember how many books we got through before I stopped reading to her. Did we quit after the massive tome that was Goblet of Fire? Did the ritual end once I got my first boyfriend and started riding everywhere in the passenger seat of his Chevy Cavalier instead of with my parents? Deathly Hallows came out when I was 17, and I'm sure I wasn't still reading out loud by then. 

Did my mom finish the books on her own, waiting until I had raced through each new release in less than a day so she could borrow my copy? Or did she just watch the movies once I stopped reading out loud? 

The details I can't remember are startling. I'm not even 30. This wasn't that long ago. But up until a few years ago, I'd forgotten that we used to read Harry together at all. 

Then my oldest daughter, Hadley, was born. Everyone tells you that reading to babies is good for them, but babies don't have much of an opinion about which books you pick. I took full advantage of this.

We were a few chapters into Sorcerer's Stone when I started having deja vu. Had I done this before? By the end of the first book, I remembered my car readings with my mom. By book two, my non-reader husband was listening in. I was once again sharing the story with someone who would otherwise never have known its magic.

Hadley is nearly four now, and old enough to be freaked out by things like an evil giant snake living in school walls. We made it through Goblet of Fire and her first 18 months of life before I decided it was time to shelve Harry for the time being. 

Now there are the Dr. Seuss books to hold her attention with their neverending rhymes, and Go Dog, Go with that horribly rude yellow dog who never likes the poor poodle's hat. Hadley has opinions about her books now, and the ones she most wants to hear are often the most tedious to read. 

It's hard to bond over phonics and early-reader books. I want to share a story with my kids. But stories, real stories, seem to be in a short supply for the under-five crowd. So I do what I've always done, ever since I was a 12-year-old tearing through Gone with the Wind and tackling my first Kingsolver: I read up to them.

The trick is to find books with pictures and a good story. Not too long—attention spans are still short. Hidden messages and strong values are always a plus, as are gorgeous illustrations. These books will likely have tearable pages and dust jackets, and the two-year-old will gradually destroy them. But that's okay; the story is just as good with some tattered edges. 

These books have been hard to come by. Bloom is one, What Do You Do with an Idea? another. And now there's a new addition to our bedtime rotation, another worthwhile story to fit in between sessions of Cat in the Hat.

The Golden Dress by L. L. Barkat checks all the boxes for me.

There's whimsy and magic, a beautiful dress any girl would adore brought to life with illustrations so gorgeous, I can't even put words to them. There's a truth-telling raven I'll 100% be using as a gateway into Poe someday. There's a dedication to all those who love fairy tales, which had me sold before I even got past the title page. There's an impressive use of vocabulary, which I appreciate in kids' books because it encourages research and curiosity. (I had to look up the word lissome, myself.)

And most of all, there's a mother and her daughter. A mother's heart laid bare in the seams of a dress, a daughter's slow understanding. This isn't a book that teaches manners or how to use the potty or a million other important little lessons we beat into our children's heads day and night.

The Golden Dress accomplishes something far more difficult: it's a story that shines truth.

I have read to my mother. Now I read to my daughters and, when he's older, my son. With every word I'm speaking stories into life, hoping that with enough rereads, the most important of our bedtime stories will stick in a beloved childhood memory somewhere. 

And if they don't stick, if they fade and wear away like mine almost did, maybe those words I read over and over again will have stacked up, layer upon layer, into the sturdy foundation that makes a child into a lover of stories.

 I received a free copy of The Golden Dress from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.