Rebecca Ripperton

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Growing Up in a Read-Aloud Family

by Rebecca Ripperton
March 18, 2019

Ever since we’ve started this blog, I’ve had a flood of memories come back to me about our experiences of reading aloud as a family. And although I have always appreciated the value my mom placed on literature, it’s taken me a long time to realize that it was our ritual of reading aloud in particular that both shaped our family dynamic and my own love for books. Accordingly, today’s post is a glimpse into what it was like growing up in a read-aloud family.

A nightly tradition and family unity

For as far back in my childhood as I can remember, we ended each evening by reading aloud as a family. Usually my mom read aloud to us, but sometimes my brother and I also took turns reading. We began by reading simple picture books, then chapter books like the Twins series and the Little Britches books. Along with these books, we also read some more modern titles. Eventually we worked our way up to authors such as Melville, Dickens, and Scott and later on, Wendell Berry.

Reading aloud was an activity that brought us together at the end of each day, and gave us a sense of unity as a family. Because we were all invested in the books we were reading, we all looked forward to this nightly tradition and the time we were able to spend together then. 

My older brother and I could not have been more dissimilar while we were growing up, but reading aloud gave us a shared interest and goal. It served as a way for us to do something together without bickering or becoming annoyed at one other. It also gave us things to talk about, and helped us develop more sympathy for each other.

Healing through the ritual of reading-aloud

In retrospect, I think reading aloud was especially important for our family dynamic after my dad died. This ritual gave my mom a way to spend quality time with both of us together every single day and to check in on us in an indirect and subtle manner. So many aspects of our family life had been thrown off kilter after his death that the constancy and comfort of that one ritual was really critical for all of us, playing a valuable role in our healing process.

Independent reading vs. reading aloud

Of course, there were always plenty of good books available to us for independent reading, as well, which we did more or less as we pleased. My mom mostly took a “laissez faire” approach to independent reading since she wanted us to actually enjoy it. She figured that it would be best to let us come to reading in our own time (which we both did). But reading aloud was non-negotiable.

So all throughout our childhoods,  she read books of the very highest quality aloud to us, one chapter at a time. Many of the books that we read aloud together I went back to a year or so later and re-read by myself. But reading these books aloud together was an entirely different experience and one that was valuable in itself.

Processing difficult topics as a family

One powerful outcome of reading aloud together was that we processed difficult topics together. I particularly remember reading books like The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom and Mildred Taylor’s Logan series (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, etc.). These books address hard subjects, but ones that are important for children to be aware of and to talk about. We often discussed what we read afterward and would refer back to it in later conversations.

Simply sharing the experience of reading these hard chapters also brought us closer together. I don’t think I will ​ever forget about the revelation about being grateful for fleas in The Hiding Place, or the terror their family felt. I was also very, very glad to have my family there when reading about those experiences.

Part of the joy of reading is being able to share what you read with others, and spending time reading aloud as a family enabled us to do just that. Over the years we shed many tears of sorrow as well as tears of laughter together. We also read scores of outstanding books that enriched our hearts and our minds alike. Best of all, though, we were able to share these experiences as a family.

Share your experience

Do you have a favorite memory of your family reading aloud when you were growing up? Is reading aloud something you do with your children now? Please let us know in a comment below — we love hearing from our readers!

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Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers

by Rebecca Ripperton
March 11, 2019

Our family's experience reading Little Britches

We first read Little Britches aloud as a family when my brother and I were somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12. Over the years, we read a lot of books together, but this one was certainly one of everyone’s favorites. I don’t remember how quickly we went through this book, but I do remember that we begged our mom to please read just one more chapter every single night. (We were also very glad to discover that Ralph Moody wrote 7 more books in his autobiographical series – but more on those in another post). 

Westward bound

Little Britches is the captivating story of a New England family that moves to Colorado in the beginning of the 20th century to take up ranching. The book is narrated from the perspective of the young Ralph Moody, or as he comes to be called, “Little Britches.” Moody does a fantastic job of capturing the excitement of the rural west at that time, as well as many of the dangers and inherent difficulties of living there. In reading this book, it's hard not to become entranced with farm work, horses, and especially with the entire Moody family.

When the Moodys first arrive in Colorado, their land allotment is poor and the house promised to them in a dilapidated condition. Most of their savings had been poured into the move, so the only animals they can afford at first are two old nags – both far from ideal for farm work. Additionally, Mr. Moody's health continues to suffer, despite the fact that the family had moved to Colorado in hopes of improving it. 

But nevertheless, the family places their faith in God and is determined to make the best of their less than ideal circumstances.

Becoming a “cow poke”

The responsibilities that Ralph assumes in Colorado are serious ones, and the work he undertakes suitable for a much older man. When he is 10, his father agrees to let him spend an entire summer on a ranch about 20 miles from home. There, he works with a gang of “cow pokes” that take him under their protection and tutelage. These ranch hands adore and respect him, and Little Britches looks up to them in turn. 

Ralph's job at the Y-B ranch is simple, so to occupy the rest of his time, a cowboy named Hi Beckmann helps Ralph break in a beautiful blue roan mare called Sky High. Hi also teaches Ralph to perform all sorts of stunts and tricks with her.

Over the course of the summer, Ralph becomes an excellent rider and horseman, and even competes as a pair with Hi in the Labor Day Round-Up trick riding competition. Ralph’s description of trick riding is definitely the high point in this book, and quite possibly even more exciting than going to see an actual rodeo!

Overcoming the on-going difficulties of ranch life

Although the family does begin to fare better, their life in Colorado is never easy and they continue to be a family of relatively humble circumstances. Their crops occasionally fail, and from time to time an animal might become injured or die. In times of drought, Ralph’s father and his neighbors fight over water access with men upstream of them, with shots fired on both sides. Mr. Moody’s health also deteriorates as the book progresses.

But no matter how poor in means they may be, the Moody family remains rich in integrity, spirit, and resourcefulness – a fact that makes them well-respected and even beloved members of their community. The Moodys also pride themselves on being rich because they have a God who provides for them, and also because they have one another as companions.

The Moody family

Throughout the book, Ralph’s family reads aloud together – on picnics, in the evenings, and on holidays. Usually mother reads aloud to them, although later on the entire family acts out plays from Shakespeare. The children and the parents all cherish this special time that they are able to spend together. Each member of the family plays an important part on the farm, whether it be taking care of the animals, helping father in the fields, or mother around the house. 

Ralph has a particularly special relationship with his father, and this relationship is to me the most moving aspect of the book. Mr. Moody is a man of few words, but remarkable character. Ralph respects him more than anybody else in the world and always strives to make him proud. In particular, Ralph feels tremendous pride when his father asks him to be his “partner” on the ranch, and begins to shake his hand whenever they part. When his father speaks to him of his wrongdoing, conversely, Ralph takes heed and does not need to be admonished twice.

Becoming a man of integrity

Ralph’s father also speaks to him often about the importance of character and of always ​being “open and above-board.” In an episode where Ralph has deceived both of his parents about his reasons for borrowing a horse, his father tells him:

“A man’s character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn’t do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin. A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth.”

This memorable allegory stays with Ralph through the remainder of his life, even after his father passes away.

Ages

The first book is recommended for children ages 9-12. It can be read independently, although I would suggest that it makes a phenomenal read aloud. It is an especially good read aloud for boys or any child with lots of energy and a love of adventure.

Ralph himself is between the ages of 8 and 11 in this book, and notes that he is placed in 3rd grade in the beginning of the book and then in 6th grade at the end. (His sister Grace is 2 years older than he is, while the rest of their 3 siblings – Phillip, Muriel, and Hal – are younger.) It could be both interesting and exciting for children to read when they are his same age, although older children and adults will enjoy it, as well. 

As a note of caution: there are some difficult moments in this book, all of which are related to the realities of homesteading and none of which are gratuitous. The book, for instance, begins with both of the Moody’s horses falling through a train trestle. Although both animals ​do survive the ordeal, this section can be hard to read. If you have younger or more sensitive children, you may want to read the first two or so chapters to get a sense of how the author addresses these difficult topics before reading them aloud with your family.

Share your experience

Have you or your children ever read Little Britches? If so, tell us about your favorite memory of reading it in a comment below!

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