In third grade, I embarked on a mission to transform my tiny wardrobe space into a reading hideout. I loved my family but wanted to tunnel away from the common areas to my secluded alcove.
I pulled out the basket that held my sneakers and jellies and shoved all the dresses to one side. The floor space wasn’t much bigger than me, but that pinch of square footage was my own blank canvas. Part of the thrill of creating this new territory was getting to make all the executive decisions about layout and management. I turned on my radio and layered my quilt and pillows over the carpeting and read by the glow of the cream colored tulle lamp sitting just inside the closet door.
Between chapters, I could lean back against my cave wall and hear ’80’s pop music, including the new-to-me sounds of female rappers, drift through the air from my gray dual-cassette radio and stare off at the fresh arrangement of shadows cast above and around me. I’d unearthed my own den. No one could accidentally stumble upon me or ask me questions. I could just quietly slide the wood door shut—and delve into my stories.
About 30 springs later, I had another idea. Before long, the rain would be letting up and school would be letting out. My son and soon-to-be third-grade daughter would have plenty of time to unwind at home. What if we made an outdoor reading nook?
My inspiration for this idea was multifaceted. In May, I ventured into Tweetspeak’s Play It Forward: Writing Workshop where we explored how allowing ourselves the time to have fun—in particular, outside—could benefit our mood and creativity. It called back childhood pastimes, which for me included calming memories of cloud-watching and of my old reading nooks. Later, I read portions of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. These thoughts stuck with me: “Children and parents feel better after spending time in the natural world—even if it’s in their own backyard.” And further on, “Encourage your kids to go camping in the backyard. Buy them a tent or help them make a canvas tepee, leave it up all summer.” (Louve, p. 360)
So on a shower-free day in my Pacific Northwest neighborhood, I mentioned the idea to my kids.
“I think it’d be fun to make an outdoor reading nook today. We could put some sheets over clotheslines and lay in the grass, or set up the screened canopy on the deck, once I figure out how to assemble it.”
My son, who’s 10, perked up.
“Oh, I know how to set it up, Dad showed me. Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll teach you how to do it.”
Eager to be his mother’s instructor, he pulled it out of the shed and started peeling off its green nylon bag. We clicked the legs into place and were making quick progress on tying down the covering—until the wind gust smacked. It punched the tent covering, turning it into a sail and jerking us both along with it. We burst out laughing as I tried to regain my footing on the deck-edge.
Meanwhile, my 7-year-old daughter (“Dot,” as I sometimes call her) had been busy. I walked back through the kitchen slider to find a spread of lime green, pink, yellow, orange, and red construction paper across the table. She was busily writing with a turquoise marker in her handmade stapled booklet.
“What are you making?”
“A guide for our nook that explains its different sections.”
“I’m making a sign for each area.”
I opened the first page of her booklet and read the Table of Contents.
Rocks and minerals collection
While she continued to craft enough signage for a small business, I steeped peach herbal tea to pour over ice.
I spread out sheets and plopped pillows inside the canopy. My daughter posted her signage in its appropriate sectors, and we settled in.
My son thumbed over the smooth surfaces of his new tumbled stone collection, and read to us about the wonders of gemstones like lapis lazuli, opals, and jasper.
On another day, my son tried out the napping area, while I sipped on creamy iced coffee and quietly flipped through a magazine. Next to her stuffed black “Berry” in sunglasses, Dot wrote in her composition book with a turquoise pen.
We heard the occasional scat from our backyard percussion section—the low tones of shifting wind chimes and ice cubes knocking against my metal tumbler’s walls.
But as the afternoon went on, everything heated up. Perspiration accumulated across my son’s forehead and the sounds of “Your toe touched my elbow,” could be heard throughout our 0.1 acres of land. I honed my skills at arranging the precise angles two kids and one adult must sit at in a square-based pyramid, in order to never touch each other—and eventually realized it was time to head back in.
The heat had kept us out of the nook for a spell, but now the sun had started easing its way behind the evergreen tree line. It was my night to read with my son. “Hey, let’s bring our story outside tonight,” I suggested.
I pulled our little wrought-iron table and chairs under the canopy and lit the citronella candle. Through the screened walls, the pink sky lit our pages. The chive stems in my planter box shivered in the breeze. Sitting side by side, with our knees covered with a fawn-colored velour blanket, we took turns reading The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis.
We followed Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum over the old stone bridge to where they met a suspicious couple. Every now and then we paused, and marked the color-changes in the clouds as they went from pink to peach, to shale gray, to dusky lavender.
Our story’s main characters would also be headed for a change in lighting, and the coming darkness played nicely into the drama. The blue sheet I’d clothespinned to one of our screened walls whipped in the wind. The candle flame fidgeted in the stainless steel bucket while we worried about what would become of the trio.
Finishing our reading, my son blew out the candle, then wrinkled up his nose at the smoke and laughed. “That smells awful—like a cooked steak!”
After chuckling myself, I asked, “What did you think of doing our reading out here this time?”
“I love it at nighttime. I love the fresh air.” As he headed back into the kitchen, I smiled and took an extra minute to scribble down some of his comments. “Mom, I’ll leave the porch door open for you.”
Later, when the kids are in bed, I reenter the nook, this time with my laptop and dimmable lantern. I’ve been struggling to write lately, but feel drawn to try it out here.
A smudge of last-light in the sky is dissolving. The hanging cornflower-blue sheet picks up and falls, like a sigh and it seems I’m watching the night breathe. With the breeze skimming my elbows, I type freely about it. The reading nook is becoming a writing nook.
A while later I look up and discover a gleaming white jewel suspended in the black sky. Through the mesh wall, the half-moon appears to have eight thick moonbeam rays streaming from it. When I move the screen out of my view, the luminous special effect disappears. You can only see this from inside the nook.
At 9:38 p.m., my son slides the kitchen door open and steps out onto the patio to say he’s having trouble falling asleep and, “Wow, it feels good out here, Mom.”
I invite him inside the canopy for a hug. Since our neighbors may be sleeping, I whisper, “Can you see the moonbeams too?”
He peeks up, “I totally can. Wow.”
He lingers a little longer near me, and I don’t rush him off.
Brilliant ink-on-tile illustrations created with a secret process bring the alphabet to colorful life. Children will delight in the rich, poetic language of colors like emerald, jasmine, and quartz—while also meeting old favorites like yellow, orange and purple.