Friday, March 2, 2012

Reminiscences about My Reluctant Reader

Reading aloud to my children is one of the sweetest pleasures I know. I cannot even guess how many hours of my life have been spent reading to them. I do know the investment has had huge returns for them and for me.

They have not all responded to being read to the same, however. I read to my first baby from the month she was born and she has had an insatiable desire for books all her life, as the pages of this website and her toil in our library to bring this joy to other children testifies. Our fifth child was adopted as a toddler, however, and couldn't sit still for one page of a picture book. He gradually tolerated the practice provided he was allowed to somersault or build Lego airplanes during the story. Over time, reading to him was part of the bond that developed between us.

Since he was from another country, and had had a lot of disruption and trauma, his language development was slow. Being convinced that hearing the language would help with this, I persisted in reading to him despite his seeming lack of interest. Imagine my consternation one day in the midst of reading Little Red Riding Hood, when he put his hand over my mouth when I read, "So her mother took a basket and filled it with bread, and wine, and butter for Red Riding Hood to take to her grandmother." and he said, "Just like church." I was startled and must have looked puzzled because he elaborated, "This is my body, broken for you." At the time, this was probably the most words he had ever said together. I treasured it up in my heart, and still do.

A couple of years later, I forged on to a simple chapter story. When he realized there were no pictures, he was immediately uninterested. I had chosen a Carolyn Haywood book, Here's a Penny, which I had read to another child years before, but had forgotten it was about an adopted little boy. The first chapter began with Penny telling his little neighbor Patsy that he was going to get a black-and-white kitty that evening. They got into a quarrel on the way to school about Patsy's insistence that you can't always choose the exact colors of the kitty you get. Penny shares that his parents got to choose exactly which little boy they would have. Eventually, Patsy triumphantly announces that Penny is not his mother's "really truly" little boy because he's 'dopted. Naturally, Penny's little world is shaken and he has a miserable day in school, suffering until the afternoon when he can run home, burst in on his mother, and pour out this devastating news to her.

At this point in the story, I became aware that my hyperactive little boy was rigidly attentive at my side. I could hardly believe he was following the narrative, but he was definitely frozen, tense. I continued. When Penny's mother takes her little boy in her lap and asks him if he knows what makes a little boy "really and truly", and explains to him that it is, "the love the mother has for her little son," my hitherto oblivious listener shouted, "So there, Patsy!"

I share these little family incidents, which were not really little to me, but monumental because of our reading struggles together, to simply say, keep reading. The habit will be formed, the heroes will become their heroes, and the hours will bear fruit. That same son and I now read Tolkien and Shakespeare and Plutarch together. Reading is important to him and the things we've shared in books together have united our hearts.

For the joy of reading,


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