Reading aloud is hard. It is work, it requires focus, it demands stamina, and it usually requires good habits. Reading aloud, like almost anything truly valuable, is hard to do.
Over the years, I have heard great mentors give the same piece of advice: choose a book you love. Read aloud can be much easier and more fulfilling if the person doing the reading chooses a book that she personally enjoys reading aloud.
This year, our family participated in the Read Aloud Revival May “31-Day Read Aloud Challenge”. By the grace of God, my son Michael’s name was drawn for the “5 books from Bethlehem Books” prize. We, as a family, had a pact that if any of our children’s names were drawn, that the prize would be a family prize. We had a lot of fun going through the Bethlehem Books catalog and we selected four books that we were reasonably certain we all would love. We took a chance on the fifth: Philomena. We had never read anything by Kate Seredy before, but my husband is the grandson of Czechoslovakian immigrants so this one seemed like a good opportunity to connect with our cultural family roots.
When the books arrived, Philomena grabbed the attention of us all. Paging through the book, we were enchanted by the illustrations and were eager to incorporate it into our morning symposium.
Kate Seredy writes with so much beauty. She tells a very interesting story, incorporates beautiful moral lessons, and writes with wit and joy. Philomena was an absolute joy to read out loud. We laughed, we cried, and we marveled at Philomena’s tenacity, goodness, and optimism.
In this old-fashioned story, Philomena is a country orphan living with her ailing grandmother, Babushka. When Babushka dies in the first chapter, Philomena must go to Prague to do as girls of her village have always done; go into service so that she can learn excellent housekeeping and earn her dowry.
Philomena is challenged deeply by things that happen to her, but she thrives. Her good country upbringing coupled with her wholesome character serve her well. Throughout the story, it is obvious that Divine Providence is taking care of her in the best possible ways.
At just under 100 pages, this can easily be read over a week of morning read alouds. The old world charm and the religious undertones give it a timeless fairytale feel. The practical explanation about country and city life may put it into the category of early elementary school living history books. The religious themes are old-fashioned Czech-Catholic – a bit mystical and a bit childish. While the character is Catholic, Philomena is not a Catholic book and is not overtly evangelistic.