What I’m Reading To My Children


My children have discovered my weakness.

“Will you read to us?” they ask each night, the moment they sense the wind-down toward bedtime.

How is a mother supposed to say no to that? Especially this  writer-mommy? My boys learned early on that books are deeply important to me. I ought to be alarmed that they are using books as weapons, little tools of manipulation to stay up later. But I’m not. I love it, actually. And rare are the nights when I deny them the chance to curl up next to me.

The best memories of my childhood involve the nights my mother read to me and my siblings. We’d sit, bellied up to a wood burning stove, and listen to her lyrical voice. There are words that–to me–should only be pronounced the way she says them. The “L” in Gandalf should be silent for instance. Don’t try to argue me on that one. Fighting words, they are.

My boys discovered a new (and brilliant!) tactic in the ever-present bedtime wars. Poetry. They’ve begun asking me to read them poetry at night! That’s the literary equivalent of a child begging to eat broccoli for dinner.

I suppose. If you insist. I could read a poem or two (or seven!) before bed.

This of course posed a new dilemma. What poems to read? I figured simple and fun poetry would be the best approach. My second child picked out THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS for his birthday last year. On page 185 is a handy-dandy primer for boys’s poetry. We read four of the “Seven Poems That Every Boy Should Know:”

IF by Rudyard Kipling.  My favorite lines:

“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken,

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken

And stoop to build ’em up with worn-out tools.”

INVICTUS by William Ernest Henley. My favorite lines:

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.”

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN by Robert Frost. My favorite lines:

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two road diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by.

And that has made all the difference.”

SEA-FEVER by John Mansfield. My favorite of all the poems we read by far, these lines especially made me smile:

“I must to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife.”

Now, don’t get the idea that we’re all serious around here. My kids like silliness and toilet humor as much as the next red-blooded American male. So we ended the night with two rousing numbers from WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS:

ICKLE ME, PICKLE ME, TICKLE ME TOO by Shel Silverstein. Love these lines:

“Ickle was captain, and Pickle was crew

And Tickle served coffee and mulligan stew.”

What is mulligan stew? No idea. But I’d take some any day. Along with a flying shoe! (Thrown shoes don’t count. Take note of that boys, if you’re reading this)


“It filled the can, it covered the floor,

It cracked the window and blocked the door

With bacon rinds and chicken bones,

Drippy ends of ice cream cones.”

Also, please know that for the most part my children had no idea what any of these poems meant (except the last two) but they liked the sound of my voice as I read them and that’s enough for me. Bedtime can wait a few minutes longer if the price I pay is four little boys who love to read (and be read to).

What are you reading to your children (or grandchildren, nieces, nephews, plants, or pets) these days?

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3 Responses to What I’m Reading To My Children

  1. Marissa March 16, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    What a wonderful mom! Thank you for reminding me of such great poetry – I tend to forget about it with so many picture books catching my kids attention. The imagination that poetry builds is priceless.

  2. Meghan Carver March 16, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I love Where the Sidewalk Ends! When I was a child, I had several of the poems memorized, and I would just walk around the house, ride in the car, or make my bed reciting Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too. Now, my children love them, and I get to read them all over again.

  3. Sibella Giorello March 16, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Oooohhh, this is one of the secrets of motherhood: the honey of words, poured from poetry! Soak up those moments.

    My 14-year-old just memorized all of “If” over the course of two weeks. Since then we’ve heard whole stanzas pop up at the most amazing moments — when a friend turns away, when money is lost, when we don’t want to do what we’re required to do. It’s like giving him a companion for life, for when we’re no longer here.

    Thanks for posting these other poems. They just went on our list (even Shel).

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