Book Review : The Reading Promise
My Father and the Books We Shared
By Alice Ozma
When Alice Ozma was in 4th grade, she and her father decided to see if he could read aloud to her for 100 consecutive nights. On the hundreth night, they shared pancakes to celebrate, but it soon became evident that neither wanted to let go of their storytelling ritual. So they decided to continue what they called “The Streak.” Alice’s father read aloud to her every night without fail until the day she left for college.
Alice approaches her book as a series of vignettes about her relationship with her father and the life lessons learned from the books he read to her.
Books included in the Streak included:
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, and Shakespeare’s plays. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
I have a few things in common with Alice Ozma (I have to call her by her preferred name since we are now friends – though she doesn’t know I exist) first, we love books and reading and libraries, second, some may call us quirky or imaginative and third, we were both raised by an adult who loved books, read to us and inspired us to continue reading. With all of this in common it isn’t a surprise that I have thoroughly enjoyed her book, The Reading Promise.
Alice’s father makes her seem quite humdrum at times because he truly is quirky, though also lovable – but don’t make contact with him since his skin is poisonous. He refers to Alice as Lovie, from Gilligan’s Island, and never by her name. All food is slop and he is hard of hearing, just to give you a rounded feel for the man who has raised Alice.
Each vignette shares a moment from Alice’s life. I have a few favorites. Each of us have probably attended or insisted on having a funeral for a beloved pet. My oldest sobbed for hours when Peach, a goldfish, died after peacefully swimming in his vase on our dining room table for three lovely months. Alice’s goldfish, Franklin, has a beautiful eulogy given by her father.
“‘But he is probably best known for his passionate enthusiasm for competitive table hockey. When he first expressed his interest to me, in private, I told him that it was foolish. I told him that fish didn’t play table hockey. Boy did he prove me wrong. No sooner had I told him he couldn’t do it than he became the local champion in the fish league. He fought long and hard to have table hockey included in the Olympics, and the committees are, at this very moment, considering his request. He made great progress for both the sport and the fish who love it.’
‘Amen,’ my sister and mother said, but they were smiling.” (p. 47-48)
Another favorite episode is when Alice explains her phobia, her father must check under her bed, on the bunk below, every night for HIM.
“Finally, I blurted out before he could make the situation any worse: ‘I am afraid that JFK’s dead body is on the bottom bunk! You know that! You check for it every night! Just tell me if it’s there!”
‘Love,” he said, ‘would I be talking to you so calmly if the body of an ex-president was lying on your bottom bunk? You don’t think I’d be downstairs, calling the neighbors to come take a look?'” (p. 106)
Alice Ozma explains, as much as anyone could explain, how a child develops a phobia of the dead body of a former president of the United States could possibly be in her room. Facts are very optional for this particular child.
There are moments when I wonder what her father was thinking, such as, the Boy-Hating club in which he is the Vice President. And, it seems odd that he would express affection by scratching her head with one finger, but at least she knew this was a sign of affection.
Though the book is set in Alice’s hometown of Philadelphia, it feels like it could be anywhere in America. It is full of the charm of ordinary events, like prom, museums and books, as well as the reality of death, disappointment, aging and separation. There is no doubt that Alice and her father are committed to reading and literature for its own sake, but we witness their commitment to each other as an example of building happiness.
Alice’s final analysis of The Streak exemplifies the spirit of family.
“We called it The Reading Streak, but it was really more of a promise. A promise to each other, a promise to ourselves. A promise to always be there and to never give up. It was a promise of hope in hopeless times. It was a promise of comfort when things got uncomfortable. And we kept our promise to each other.” (p. 270)
Jim, Alice’s father, believes that children will not rebel when they know that a parent will listen to them and wants to help fulfill their dreams – and that this can be achieved through reading together. I don’t believe there is scientific proof of his sentiment, but I love that it worked for him and I do believe that reading to children will only be a benefit. Reading can be a bridge to reach your child, a way to spend time together, a time to laugh and cry and explore new worlds. I cannot imagine a world without books.
I highly recommend this book for everyone who likes to laugh and loves books. I hope you join Alice’s passionate call to promote reading wherever you are.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
- the Mother
If you liked this one try A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck and Schooled by Gordon Korman for humorous books and Austenland by Shannon Hale for something funny and almost historical.