Bedtime Story Showdown Everyone knows that reading to your children is a parental must-do — it's up there with serving vegetables and keeping coins out of their noses. But not too many people admit this guilty secret — reading out loud every night can be kind of a drag. Commentator Emily Wylie has found a way to juice up the bland daily chore.
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Bedtime Story Showdown

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Bedtime Story Showdown

Bedtime Story Showdown

Bedtime Story Showdown

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Emily Wylie is a writer and teacher in New York City. She currently spends a lot of time doing vocal exercises. Courtesy of Emily Wylie hide caption

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Courtesy of Emily Wylie

It can loom over you, one more hurdle before bedtime, especially when your child hits the over-and-over stage, loving the one book you hate, the one you've seen your partner try to "lose" under the bed, the one which, if your obsessed child finds it again, you will help lose permanently in an accident involving the paper shredder.

But our family has come up with a solution: competitive reading out loud. My husband and I can make almost anything into a competition, but this one is inspired, miles more respectable than our usual "who can stuff the most grapes into their mouth" kind of throw-down. This would be like PBS and national parks: entertaining and educational — escapism with a veneer of dignity!

We eased into it, circling each other through those simple books where you just have to show up and emote: "I kissed the baby! Did YOU kiss the baby?" and perfecting our farm animal noises and then our farm animal voices. But then I heard Scott up the ante — reading the three little pigs as German: "Not by ze hair of my chinny chin chin" — and we were off to the races.

I fought back with books that that make you sing. I've seen novices just plow through those italicized parts, and I get it. But in MY house? Oh, we SING. We sing the ones we have to make up tunes to: "When the Wasps and the Bumblebees have a party, nobody comes that can't buzz / when the chicks and ducklings have an outing everyone has to wear fuzz!"

At Defcon 5 in this competition, we're on to voices. If Scott makes the South-going Zax, arguing there on the Prairie of Prax, sound like Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I make the North-going Zax into Ian McKellen driving away a Balrog: "I'M A NORTH-GOING ZAX AND I ALWAYS GO NORTH! GET OUT OF MY WAY NOW AND LET ME GO FORTH!" I got to the Frances books first, and I pitched the voice for Frances so high I was sure Scott wouldn't be able to do it, but I'll be dipped: He nailed it, and now he can do Frances' father: "Poached Eggs on Toast! Now that's what I call a pretty sight"; Frances herself: "sunny-side up eggs look up at you in a funny way, and sunny-side down eggs just lie on their stomachs and WAIT." Her friend Albert: "I think it's nice that there are all sorts of breakfasts and lunches and dinners and snacks, I think eating is nice"; and her little sister Gloria: "I can be a best friend, and I can catch frogs too"; and even her tricky friend Velma: "I don't think they make that kind of tea-set anymore" ... with an ease that makes me suspect he practices at work.

It might be that we've made a daily hurdle even higher ... but it feels different. Virtuous. I'm motivated. I've got more rounds in me. Which is good, since our audience doesn't look close to naming a champ yet. But between you and me? I'm totally winning.

Emily Wylie is a writer and teacher in New York City. She currently spends a lot of time doing vocal exercises.