I love to read. But I have found it difficult to integrate my bookishness into the compelling routines of family life. I had made a grudging decision to abandon the attempt when, one evening, my nine-year-old son and his two sisters began cackling at the dinner table over the ridiculous name of his new classmate: Penelope. To sweeten the parental task of domesticating his manners, I found myself trying to tell him about Ulysses’ Penelope, who did and undid her weaving to stall importunate suitors. Everyone wanted to know more, and a children’s Odyssey from the library soon led us through many other adventures, even producing some tears at the death of Ulysses’ old dog. We had fallen, half unawares, upon our now treasured custom of family reading—reading aloud around the table after dinner.

Thanks to the legacy of his Italian father, my husband has always required the family to stay at the table for conversation after a meal. Thus it was already established that we owed the time between dinner and the littlest one’s bedtime to each other, and that no one need break at a dead run for the television as the last bite was being chewed. Family reading fit naturally into that period. Visiting friends of all ages quickly agree to take their turns as the book is passed around and each person is responsible for a few paragraphs. (The six-year-old, to the counterpoint of tormented sighs from her big brother, reads a small paragraph. She needs less help in sounding things out than we might expect.) Ricky’s insult to Penelope has proved to be one of those chance opportunities that God so often allows; we are daily learning the implications of this idea that we never conceived when we first began to read aloud.

In the nearly two years since ...

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