When I read with my children, I add random sheep; the kind of sheep that surprise a child whose mind is still on the “Why can’t I stay up another hour?” trail, or who just needs a smile before drifting off.
Once upon a time, there were three little sheep… [glazed eyes, pause, crinkled brow, “No? Pigs?”]
Humpty Dumpty sat on a sheep. [Muu-uuu-ummm!]
Sheep are brilliant; they draw focus, bring my child to the story. If I throw a decoy sheep into a familiar story, he’ll sprint for the “non-sheep” version (which is not to say that sheep aren’t sometimes an improvement), and will listen hard for the next sheep. They also encourage him to create his own spins; show him that stories can be diverted, adapted, or otherwise retold in a non-heavy, woolly sort of way — a “reading is all about stories, not about words” sort of human/ovine imagination-bonanza way.
Sheep are fun. (Knights in shining armour would not ride their trusty sheep into battle if they weren’t. They just wouldn’t.) And sheep can be wrong, sometimes oh-so-very wrong, but the world doesn’t end. So for the nervous reader, there’s a whole heap of getting-it-wrong pressure flung out of the window.
Plus, once you get into the habit, decoy sheep really screw with the kids’ heads when the story actually does contain sheep. I totally blew out Big Bo Peep with this whole game, as if Big Bo Peep isn’t perfectly subversive enough already. We went meta on ovine subversion that night.
Yeah, so anyway, we love ’em.
*Hands out free imaginary sheep.*