Move over Harry Potter, Bruce Nillten may be the next big name in books. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Move over Harry Potter, Bruce Nillten may be the next big name in books. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Sarah Simpson Column: Books open up a world of discovery

We try to eat dinner as a family every night. It happens about 90 per cent of the time — a statistic I’m pretty proud of because the studies show it’s good for families. I know it won’t last though. As the kids get older they’ll undoubtedly have to be at some type of sports or music practice or over at a classmate’s doing a project for school or something (COVID-19 willing).

Every night at dinner, I try to be a rock star mom and ask open-ended questions. Sometimes it leads to fantastic conversations, but quite often is doesn’t work as the kids are playing footsies or getting distracted by whatever they’ve decided to bring to the table for “show and tell” and I inevitably end up saying something along the lines of “please stop doing that and just eat your darn dinner.”

More often than not though, I try to ask the kids: “What was the best part of your day?”

For years it was just “Mommy” which I’m not gonna lie, was fun to hear. (For me, not so much for my husband.) It became a stock answer so now we reject it as a suitable reply. For a while now though, the response we usually get is: “It hasn’t happened yet.”

What do you mean it hasn’t happened yet? By dinner, we’re close to the end of the day! But they’re serious. The best part of their day, and for us grown-ups, too, is reading time.

If you’re a longer-time reader you’ll know that when life shut down for a while there in March 2020, my family read our way through the Roald Dahl collection. It was a fantastic and cathartic way to end our days. Previously, the boys would read in one room and the girls in another, but the Dahl collection brought us all together on Mom and Dad’s bed for a snuggle-fest to listen to Dad read aloud. My husband reads way better than I do. He makes voices. Suits me just fine, I get to lay back, cuddle my babies, close my eyes, and listen.

When we finished the Dahl books, my husband visited Volume One in downtown Duncan, and asked for a recommendation of another series of books suitable for kids. The two suggested were The Magic Misfits series written by Doogie Howser himself — Neil Patrick Harris — and The Penderwicks series written by Jeanne Birdsall.

We plowed through the first three Magic Misfits books and are now waiting for the fourth to come out in paperback.

While we wait for that one, we’ve jumped head-first into the world of the Penderwick sisters and their dog Hound.

(Let me tell you, if you want to get children into reading, have the family dog vomit on people’s shoes twice in the first couple chapters. That’s really a great hook for the four-to-six age group.)

Anyway, we’re very much enjoying The Penderwicks. In it, one of the young protagonists, Jane, fancies herself an author. She writes books about her made-up hero Sabrina Starr.

I’m not sure if it’s what spawned my four-year-old’s creativity, but the other day as we sat at the dinner table for Taco Tuesday, my daughter told the rest of us she’d made up a character.

Ladies and gentleman I’d like to tell you about Bruce Nillten. Her spelling, not mine.

Mr. Nillten is an Olympic swimmer from Mexico. He loves to eat peas — even for dessert. Now, I don’t know Nillten’s inner-workings but from what my burgeoning writer tells me, he seems to be quite a regimented fellow. Perhaps that’s why he’s such a great athlete.

You see, Bruce Nillten is a man of routine. He eats his peas four times a day, every day. He drives his blue car five times a day, every day. He swims once per day. (I assume it must be a long swim session if he’s an Olympian.) Nillten looks at a framed photograph of his wife three times a day as well. He also wears his favourite socks five days in a row. (Poor Mrs. Nillten!)

What happens if these things don’t get accomplished, you ask?

“He stays in his bed all day long.”

This man is a complex character. I would expect nothing less from the imagination of my inquisitive goofball of a daughter. She’s definitely been bitten by the book bug. So, too, has her brother.

Reading more and more lately, my first-grader is becoming more confident. The latest book in The Magic Treehouse series was sitting on the staircase waiting to be put away one night and on our way upstairs for reading/bedtime he grabbed it and opened it to the prologue. To our astonishment — and to his own — he read the first sentence flawlessly. In a desperate attempt to keep our routine on schedule we told him to put the book away. It’s hard to scold your kid when he’s delaying reading time — by reading — but we did. We wanted to get back to the world of the Penderwicks!

My son pushed back, the book in his nose while he brushed his teeth and changed into PJs. He crawled onto our bed and slowly sounded out a word he’d never read before. Dis-co-v-er-y.

His jaw dropped.

“DISCOVERY!” he shouted.

A discovery indeed.

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