Bananas or Batarangs? (Give a Hoot... Read a Book.)

>> Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I have a confession to make. I don’t like to read to my girls.

I know, I know! I’ve seen the ads on TV. I know how important it is for their development and that it’s a wonderful opportunity to spend quiet, quality time with them. I’m sure that without reading to them they’ll be borderline retarded and teenage runaways. So I do read to them -- because I have to.

I find most children’s books to be excruciating. I have a difficult time feigning interest in a story about a pesky little ape who causes a lot of trouble. I find his “curious” antics disturbing and think he should be sent back to Africa.

All right, I’m being too harsh. Curious George is OK. The girls like him, so for that reason alone the little monkey is welcome in our house. But he tends to get into trouble that could easily be avoided, which makes me a little nervous.

    This is Melissa.
    She lives with her friend, the man with the record collection.
    She is a good little mommy, and always very nervous.

Thank God for my husband. Not only does he read to them, but he makes special weekly trips to the library and picks out books for them. When he reads aloud, it’s with inflection, enthusiasm and love. But it’s definitely his thing.

Michael laughs at me when I read to them. My voice is flat. I paraphrase. I yawn. By 9:30 at night, I just can’t fake it anymore.

Recently, however, our girls’ daycare had a book fair. I promised that they could buy two books each. Immediately my 3 (almost 4) year-old picked out a Batman comic book with an evil-looking Joker on the cover.

“Er, isn’t this a little too violent, Elizabeth?” I asked, flipping through the pages of thugs and explosions. “No! I want this one!” I persisted, “Well, there aren’t many pictures, are you sure?” “YES!” I tried to suggest other books. Books about happy skyscrapers and Firemen. But her determination was greater than mine and she won out.

That night Michael was away at a convention. I promised the girls I’d read one of their new books. Of course, Elizabeth picked Batman and The Birthday Bash. I took a deep breath, a long sip of water and started to read:

    “Bruce Wayne was one of the richest men in Gotham City. He lived in Wayne Manor above a secret cave--the Batcave! That’s because Bruce was also Batman!”

OK. Not too bad. Apparently the Joker had escaped from Arkham Asylum.

    “Bad news...,” said Gordon.

    “Has there been a breakout?” asked Batman.

    “Follow me,” Gordon said.

It wasn’t long before I found myself drawn into the plot line. To my surprise I started using voices. I played Gordon with a sort of dimwitted male authority. Batman sounded purely masculine and oddly conservative -- like he wouldn’t know what to do if he was offered marijuana at a party.

There were the thugs...

    Sweeny looked up from the game. “Do you think our boss really broke out of Arkham Asylum?” he asked.

    McGurk shook his head. “He said to meet him here tonight. But no one breaks out of that place.”

Sweeny and McGurk. What great names! They had husky Brooklyn accents and sounded like they’d failed the fourth grade.

Then there was the Joker...

    “I’m back, boys! And it’s my birthday! Breaking out of Arkham was a treat, but I want a real party and presents!”

Awesome! You gotta love a guy with the audacity to admit he wants a fabulous birthday celebration. I really turned it up for him. My voice sounded like a combination of Squiggy (from Laverne and Shirley) and an evil John Lovitz with lots and lots of high-pitched maniacal laughter thrown in.

We were enthralled. The girls gasped, laughed, and squealed, “What’s gonna happen?” There was a decrepit amusement park, a house of mirrors, and a rusted carousel that fell into the sea! There were Batarangs, wealthy elitists, and an emerald! Little boys stuck their tongues out at the Joker who mocked them while riding a little boy’s stolen bicycle. There were more thugs, more batarangs, and finally a giant cake from which Batman burst to capture a surprised Joker who eventually lands in the cake with a giant SPLAT! Dude!

20 minutes later my voice was sore, the girls and I couldn’t stop talking about Batman, and I had to admit the truth: I’d had an awesome time reading to them.

If only George could throw a Batarang every once in a while...

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