Every January our family participates in a Read-Aloud Challenge. Each person is supposed to read aloud for 10 minutes to someone else. If each person logs 25 reading days within the 31 days of January, the family attains the goal. We celebrate by going out for dinner.

We Blossers believe that reading aloud is tremendously beneficial–not only for individual literacy, but for bonding, and curating a rich family culture around excellent stories. The stories, expressed through our individual voices, intonation, inflection pass through our personalities to those we love most. When we all burst into laughter at the same point we are sharing. These moments are sacred–rituals that are making an indelible mark on who we are.

For my reading time, I’m amazed at how often I reach for A.A. Milne’s classics, Winnie-The-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. Milne achieves the perfect balance of silliness, enchantment, wonder, growth, and friendship in a style that is so delightful to read and hear that I can’t resist it.

I’m also reading, not-aloud (unless I get too excited, and spontaneously rush to share a paragraph with Diedra), William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. He’s convinced me that Milne is a genius (though I can’t remember him actually mentioning Milne’s name). Why? Because of Milne’s ability to break all the rules in such a way that he reinforces the value of those rules–and magically delights us all the way.

Here’s one example of many:

For the rule, here is Zinsser telling the writer to Write Simply:

“Our national tendency is to inflate [language] and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t think of saying it may rain. The sentence is too simple–there must be something wrong with it.”

Now Milne:

On the morning of the fifth day [of torrential rain] he [Christopher Robin] saw the water all around him, and knew for the first time in his life he was on a real island. Which was very exciting.

It was on this morning that Owl came flying over the water to say “How do you do,” to his friend Christopher Robin.

“I say, Owl,” said Christopher Robin, “isn’t this fun? I’m on an island!”

“The atmospheric conditions have been very unfavorable lately,” said Owl.

“The what?”

“It has been raining,” explained Owl.

“Yes,” said Christopher Robin. “It has.”

“The flood-level has reached an unprecedented height.”

“The who?”

“There’s a lot of water about,” explained Owl.

“Yes,” said Christopher Robin, “there is.”

“However, the prospects are rapidly becoming more favourable. At any moment–“

“Have you seen Pooh?”

“No. At any moment–“

“I hope he’s all right,” said Christopher Robin.

Decoration by Ernest H. Shephard in A. A. Milne, Winnie-The-Pooh, 139.