posts tagged with 'reading'

Elijah reading

Elijah is having a harder time with reading than either of his brothers did. The way his brain works it's hard for him to make the words stay still on the page long enough to give up their secrets. But he's working on it. And it's been fun this week to see him taking on Dory Dory Black Sheep, one of the first books that Harvey read and enjoyed by himself. He was thinking that I might read some of the chapters to him, but as he got into it decided that it was good enough that he would push through himself so he would get credit for reading it all. And the best part is that he reads aloud, so I get to enjoy the story myself!

our reading

With our Christmas reading out of the way we're back to our regularly scheduled bedtime chapter books. Yesterday we finished up The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly, is a fantastic book which was enjoyed by all (Harvey enjoyed it first on his own time, freeing him up to do other things before bedtime). It's about a girl from a wealthy family in rural Texas in 1899 whose interest in the natural world is encouraged by her grandfather but resisted by her mother, who wants her to become a proper young lady. It's both sensitive and funny and won a well-deserved Newberry honor for its first-time author. I was facing some pressure from the boys to go straight on to the sequel, which I picked up yesterday at the library, but I refused. As good as it was, I don't like to stay in the same style and voice for too long. But of course that means I had to find another book. Which isn't easy!

We've been reading chapter books to the boys since Harvey was four, or maybe even three. I think we started with the Borrowers series, or maybe Little House. So just for bedtime reading—and let me tell you we've done a lot more than just bedtime reading!—that's about half-an-hour a night for the last eight years. Or say 20 minutes; sometimes we're short on time. That's about 970 hours, or 40 days, of chapter book readalouds! I wonder how many books we've read together? Or which ones?! The other day we were trying to think of what we were reading three books ago, and had some trouble; one of the boys expressed a wish we had written them all down. Yes, if only we had: what a record that would have been! But we didn't. So I suppose we can't start now.

But we can start a new book! Tonight we dipped into The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip and Erin Stead, and we're all liking it so far. And after it will come another...


bedtime Caroling

This week we set aside our current evening read-aloud chapter book—The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate at the moment—for a read through of that beloved classic tale, A Christmas Carol. Which I actually don't believe I've ever read! Or at least I don't remember it. Not the details, anyway; I'm of course very familiar with the storyline and the characters. But I've been surprised by how much I'm enjoying the writing. Probably some of my pleasant surprise is due to the fact that I last read Dickens in high school when he was being forced upon me, and I don't think I was ready. Or not prepared to be appreciative at least. Now in the 21st century A Christmas Carol is definitely holding our interest (even if I do have to stop and explain some of the scenes, for language and context; it helps that the period was solidly my area of study as an undergrad!). There's even been pressure to get some extra reading time in, but I'm holding firm: we've got to time it right to finish tomorrow night just before bedtime!

two books' take on foster care

In the last couple weeks I've read a couple of books, one very good and one not as good, that I thought were an interesting juxtaposition. Our read-aloud chapter book for the last while has been Pine Island Home, by Polly Horvath. We loved her silly story The Pepins and Their Problems a couple years ago, so I thought this one about kids living on their own on a farm on the Vancouver coast would be a sure hit... but for some reason it didn't quite land with us. The book does a great job subverting expectations about what's going to happen next for the precarious family of orphans, but we actually found that more stressful than delightful. I think that might be because we wanted a little more character development and atmospheric detail? In any case, we saw it through to the end but were glad to move on to a more compelling story.

I did think it was interesting comparing one facet of Pine Island Home with a book I read on my own a couple days ago: Fighting Words, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It's about a pair of sisters who are in foster care, with their mom in jail after blowing up a motel room cooking meth. The narrator is ten-year-old Della, and she's a fantastically convincing and compelling character with plenty of development. The book deals with—is about!—issues of sexual abuse and child poverty, so neither of my boys for whom it would have been appropriate felt like they wanted to read it, which is fine. But I felt like it was a super valuable read.

The big difference between the two books was their treatment of foster care. In Pine Island Home the kids—four girls from 8 to 14—lose their parents to a tsunami and then, after some time with a caretaker, are sent to Vancouver to live with their great aunt only to find on arriving that she's just died as well. Since nobody else is looking out for them they decide to live in the house on their own, and their greatest fear throughout the story is that they'll be discovered by social services, separated, and taken into care. In Fighting Words Della also begins the story frightened of social services: her mom's abusive boyfriend, who took Della and her older sister in after their mom went to prison, threatens Della that he'll send her to a group home if she complains. But once she actually does enter the foster care system she finds it's made up of people who really care about kids and are willing to stand strong in support of her—even when she's not able to give them much in return.

That arc makes Fighting Words read as real and true. Pine Island Home not so much. That story's four girls aren't rich, but the way the story goes what stands out the most is their privilege. There's some talk of the trauma of losing their parents, but it doesn't really seem real. And they land on their feet in a beautiful multi-acre property on the ocean where they have a real chance of living on their own unless they get found out. I think I understand why the story plays out that way: we want stories about independent kids but we don't want them to be too traumatic. And in the 21st century it's hard to think of kids having realistic independent adventures that aren't. But Fighting Words shows that there are actually plenty of kids having adventurous lives against their will. When Della hears that some kids in her new school never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from she's amazed; she'd never known anyone who wasn't food-insecure. Unfortunately that's very much a reality in 2021, and it's wonderful to have stories that reflect it.


summer readings

We signed up for the summer reading program at the library this morning. Well, the boys signed up; there's a thing for adults too, but I have enough trouble helping them keep track of their reading to try and record my own too. I guess the purpose of the program is to keep kids reading over the non-school months, like reading is something that otherwise you'd only do if a teacher was making you. That's not the case at our house! All I had to do today to get the boys to spend hours engrossed in books was to let them pick up some new ones at the library. Although in our case it's not even something I wanted them to be doing: after we read for over an hour in the library and then another hour-plus at home after lunch, I thought everybody would do better to go outside and exercise brains and imagination. I did! And they tried, but the allure of the books—and of the couch—was too strong. It's too bad that the library program this summer is based on days that the kids read, rather than hours as was the case last time. So their five solid reading hours today isn't going to serve them any better in the race for badges than someone else's 15 minutes!

Unrelated to that program, Elijah asked towards the end of the school year if he could work on leaning to read. So we've been doing that. He did awesome with phonics, and fairly well with sight word flash cards. So I got him started on a real book: Go Dog Go, my absolute favorite early reader. What I love about it is that it starts super simple and introduces words with picture and context clues to begin with, so that by the end there's a little bit of story and like half of the kindergarten sight word list. As the back of the book says, it's great for self-directed reading learning. Well, Elijah may be motivated to read, but the way his brain works Go Dog Go wasn't the winner I hoped it would be. Reading it with him I had a hard time containing my frustration when he painstakingly sounded out "dogs" for like the fifteenth time in five minutes. He's also been having some trouble with "the". Maybe it's my fault for starting with phonics! Or for trying to teach him at all... the other two boys learned to read pretty much on their own. But Lijah is his own kind of person, and he's needed someone to teach him things in the past: riding a bike, sitting up (that one was a long time ago)... He's a hard worker, though, and if he wants to read he'll get it. In the meantime, while he did spend some of the afternoon with his nose in a book—a series of books—he had no trouble getting his body and brain moving too. So that's fine.


our reading lately

As I think I've mentioned, we managed to get through a year-plus of pandemic without any interruption to our chapter-book readaloud practice, even if it did lead us to read some selections that I might not have tried if we had all the variety of the library available to us. Most recently it was A Wizard of Earthsea, but Ursula LeGuin. It's a great story but the telling of it isn't straightforward; Harvey actually tried to read it himself six months ago or so and couldn't get into it. But as a readaloud it was a hit, for whatever reason, and with two reading sessions most days we got through it pretty quickly. I'm not sure how much of the exact progression of the story that Elijah was able to grasp, but he liked as much as anyone—enough that he's now doing a lot of playing wizards.

Now, though, the library is once again an option, and just in time for finishing Earthsea we took delivery of our first shipment of chapter books. So today we started The Moffats, by Eleanor Estes—different in every way from Ursula LeGuin but also very good. And more at Lijah's comprehension level. And when that's done, I've got other holds in at the library. Thank goodness!

a momentous day

In former times the library was pretty central to our lives. Both because we all love having a constant stream of new books to look at, and because it's great to have somewhere to go in any sort of weather that's a) not the house, b) inside, and c) free. As I've noted before the second biggest trauma at the start of this pandemic—after having to cancel our long anticipated co-op music day—was that the library closed down before we had a chance to lay in a big store of books. It was my fault; I thought of it on that fateful Friday the 13th but told myself that Saturday morning would be a fine time to browse. Nope: they closed that evening and haven't opened to the public since. Of course, books have been available since last May or so, but in order to get them you had to know what you wanted in advance, put a hold on it, reserve a pickup day and time, and then be there in the specific half hour you put in for. All of those steps are hard for me! Well, the procedure hasn't gotten any easier, but my desire for new books has reached a breaking point (and I've been properly shamed by friends who do regular library pickups) so I'm proud to report that, yesterday evening, we received our first library books in over 13 months.

picture books on our coffee table

library books at our house!

I was super excited to go and pick them up. In retrospect, I could have extended that excitement to the boys by requesting some books that would be particularly delightful to them; I didn't do that. Mostly it's picture book biographies of poets, since that's what I've been thinking about. Still, such is the demand for reading material around here that Harvey has now read every word of all of them (he accomplished the feat in just slightly under 24 hours). Good thing there are more coming! Including some requests from the boys. What I need now is some way for them to access the library website and put in their own holds when they want something... any chance I can manage that before the library reopens for real?


still managing to read

As we started spending more time at and around the playground the last couple weeks, I remembered that I really miss the library. Really, not getting to visit there once a week—or more!—is one of the hardest things about this pandemic for us (which shows how incredibly fortunate we are, something I don't take for granted in the least). But even without the library for fifty-three weeks and counting we haven't done that badly for books. Sure, we'd love to have access to new and interesting picture books, and research on the internet isn't nearly as fun as paging though age-appropriate texts. For chapter books, though, we've managed to find enough new material to keep up our habit of reading half and hour to an hour every day. My habit of stocking up at every used book sale I see is paying off!

It also helps, of course, that the boys all really love being read to, and that all three of them are interested in a wide variety of styles. In the last couple weeks we've read Misty of Chincoteague and The Tale of Desperaux (that's a new one for us; Leah found it at Savers), and now we're working our way through My Family and Other Animals, an autobiographical account of zookeeper and naturalist Gerald Durrell's childhood on the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930s. I don't think I would have tried to read it to them a year ago at the beginning of the pandemic: it's more episodic and atmospheric than plot-driven, and while it's filled with beautifully written description it's not necessarily a story you'd expect would be enjoyed by a seven-year-old. But it's also silly and full of animals, so I guess that's a winner.

That's not to say I wouldn't much rather have the option, at least, of finding some good new books at the library. Every time we reach the end of one book I start to get nervous that, this time, we've really come to the end of our supply. Everything else is open now: even the elementary schools are now back in person four days a week, and middle and high school will be going back full time in a couple weeks. And we can go to supermarkets and malls and, for all I know, bars and movie theaters! So why not libraries?!


another reader

Like Harvey before him, Zion has taken to reading. As the manager of the household I'd say it's because he wants an excuse to do something rather than work (or sleep), but as a homeschool parent I'm of course delighted. Because reading is wonderful, right?! It was Ramona Forever that was keeping him from going to bed last night and from doing his chores this morning, but luckily he finished it in time to take part in our school day.

I think it's safe to say that I have mixed feelings about reading. What I don't buy is the idea that reading is worthwhile for it's own sake—not just knowing how to read, but enjoying reading and appreciating particular books. In school it doesn't matter what it is, as long as you find something you want to read. And then you're all set! (until they catch you reading in math class; ask me how I know!). So you have an ecosystem of terrible books that make their ways from publishers to school libraries because, as they tell us, "at least they're getting kids reading!" Sure, I agree that there are tons of great books out there, books that expand your mind or transport you to places you could never visit otherwise; but I don't know that, oh, the graphic novel version of The Wings of Fire necessarily provides a path towards coming to enjoy them. Why not just tell kids—tell everyone!—that there are these great books out there, and wait for them to learn how to read so they can find out for themselves just how great?

Of course, I fully admit that my concerns are completely misguided. After all, I went through a period where I devoured as many Hardy Boys books as I could get my hands on! And I certainly don't want to suggest that graphic novels, as a form, have anything wrong with them; except for The Wings of Fire (which, admittedly, I've never even read!) all the books on this list are pretty darn good. Zion read his share of them—more than his share, probably—before he got started on chapter books (and in fact having finished Ramona he spent some time with Amulet this evening). I guess I'm just doing that grumpy old man thing where I only think books I like are any good. In my defense, though, I wouldn't be complaining if Zion, besides reading, was also doing everything he's supposed to!

Postscript: In between writing the previous paragraph and this one I did bedtime with kids. As I finished praying with Harvey Zion was reading Squirrel Girl in his bed with the headlamp. I asked him to turn it off, and he let me know that actually the nighttime is the best time for reading, because he didn't have anything else he needed to be doing! What about sleeping, my love? Ah, reading...


some are readers

Once again we're taking part in the summer reading program at the library. Last year the boys signed up and then didn't do anything else with the program, because all the rewards were for doing reading-adjacent activities like writing letters to authors or attending presentations at the library. We don't have time for that. This year, though, it's all about the reading: there are necklaces, and each child gets to add a bead to their necklace for every 15 minutes read. That, we can do!

It's actually slightly more complex than that: kids can also trade up the 15 minute beads for ever-prettier beads representing more time. An hour gets you a metallic bead, glow-in-the-dark beads are for two hour, and at four hours the prize is a bead that changes color in UV light. And then there's the coveted star-shaped 8-hour bead.

The last time we were at the library the kids stepped up to the counter from youngest to oldest. Lijah was read to a reasonable amount; Zion impressed with his nine or so hours of reading over two week. Then it was Harvey's turn. When the computer showed that he had recorded 24 hours of reading the librarian was a little shocked, and she wondered if maybe someone had missed checking off his time for previous weeks. "No," I said, "I don't think so. It's been 12 days since we've been in... how much is that per day? Yup, I'm actually surprised it isn't more."

Harvey reads enough; or, too much. I've mentioned it before. I was the same way I think. It's easy to see how TV or video games can keep kids sedentary and hamper their imaginative play—I'm sure that in some circumstances books do the same thing. Not to say I'm against reading! But as someone who, given a quiet moments this afternoon, picked up a book rather than getting back to work cleaning the basement, I know it can have its downsides. Certainly in my family I don't see anything to justify the fetishization of reading—positioning as an absolute good—that we see from schools and libraries. But then, we'd read anyway! So I guess it's nice that we get beads for it... oh, and coupons for free used books too! The boys have racked up seven of those between them already. Not that they're interested: who needs to buy books when you have a whole library full of them?