(When we read aloud to children, we expose them to sophisticated language. Every (other) week, I highlight a brilliantly written children’s book that develops children’s vocabulary, a book in which the author doesn’t think “wonderful” is a descriptive word and the story doesn’t sound like it was thrown together by a computer. Every parent slowly comes to the grievous realization (or shock) that the majority of children’s books are better off in the trash. Now, let us open the doors to a great one…)
THE RELATIVES CAME BY CYNTHIA RYLANT
Some children’s books are a meditation. The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant portrays traveling loved ones—cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents—and the experience of greeting, hugging, laughing and “breathing” with them when they finally arrive. The unnamed characters hop in an old station wagon, leave their growing grapes in Virginia, and travel through hilly terrain for hours. When they step out of the car unbridled joy, smiles, and carefree optimism bursts forth.
The narrator celebrates that he doesn’t need to explain his identity, history, or inclinations, because he is with family, people who loved him in the womb. The book is comforting, soothing. After reading it, I feel like I just spent a day swimming in the summer sun with childhood best friends.
If you had relatives come as a child, it’ll make you long for those times. If you didn’t, it’ll make you wish for a second life just so you can be born into a big family and have some relatives come.
It’s a great book to read when you’re waiting for loved ones to visit. And the prose, you’ll get lost in it…
The Relatives Came is a book I can read over and over without getting sick of it. The language is rhythmic, and the author breaks grammar rules to capture both calmness and chaos.
The prose would please Socrates, the Greek philosopher who mourned the loss of oral culture. Socrates revered master storytellers, scholars who not only focused on content, but on sound. He liked the lyricism in language, the crafting of words to be spoken and heard like a song, the streaming together of sonorous sounds to create an effect on a listener.
The Relatives Came is meant to be read out-loud, not to be consumed in the quietness of the mind. When read out-loud, the prose captures something that reminds me of the beating of a maternal heart.
The pictures in the first half of the book are simple—an old station wagon driving through the hills of Virginia, sometimes coming perilously close to a mountainous edge. In the second half of the book, loved ones, lots of them, smile, run, hug, laugh, and talk.
WHY READ ALOUD TO DYSLEXIC READERS/STRUGGLING READERS
If a child is below grade level, it is critical to read aloud to them. Reading aloud to children helps develop their vocabulary, and later contributes to excellent reading comprehension. While children are learning to decode, they might not be able to read books that teach vocabulary words. In early grades, complex orthographic units are too complicated for a struggling reader or dyslexic reader. Thus, to develop their vocabulary, reading aloud is essential.
And The Relatives Came will get you so lost you might forget that reading is important, because you’ll remember reading is a pleasure.
Reading Elephant offers printable phonics books for struggling k-2 readers.