First Book

First Book

I want to write today about the very first book my kid read by herself.

I’ve been thinking about a post that Adele Brodkin, a/k/a the Scholastic Grandmom Blogger, wrote last week about how over-emphasis on reading can sometimes have a paradoxically aversive effect on kids . It reminded me of a post I read a couple of months ago by Mir in her column at Maya’s Mom in which she advises parents of reluctant readers to lay off a bit and stop trying so hard to get their kids to read.

The truth is, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. It won’t be much of a surprise to hear that I was always a bookworm, and barely remember ever not having my nose buried in a book. My kid, not so much. At seven, the child of two librarians, she is quick to proclaim that she LOVES reading: she knows it's important to her parents, and she's picked up on our values. But when left to herself, more often than not she'll choose to spend hours playing with her huge collection of tiny plastic dolls and animals, or to practice her tumbling and gymnastics routines. She lives primarily in her imagination and in physical movement, not--as I did at her age--through the printed word. And she loves to watch television, when she gets a chance—especially cartoons.

It hasn’t helped that, until recently, she was still struggling with the mechanics of decoding written language, or that so many of her friends and classmates were early readers that my totally-on-grade-level-track child commented matter-of-factly to us about this time last year that she was “the worst reader” in her class.

She was in a bind: her vocabulary and her grasp of narrative were way out of line with her decoding ability. We’d been reading chapter books to her that we remembered treasuring as children, like Pippi Longstocking and My Father’s Dragon, and sophisticated picture books like the works of Kevin Henkes and Peggy Rathmann. After fare like this, she scorned short, simple, phonics-based readers like the popular Bob Books. And early readers with more depth, like the Frog and Toad series or Green Eggs and Ham (which I remember as my first solo read) were way too long and indimidating for her. She wanted to read the kind of books she loved, and there was no way that she could.

It was on a snow day, just about a year ago, that she first read a book all by herself. It wasn’t one of our family favorites, like the Robert Munsch books she’d adored as a preschooler. It wasn’t one of the battered beloved old board books, like her babyhood favorite Peek-a-Who?, that we’d recently schlepped up from the basement in hopes that the combination of brief text and fond memories would inspire her to try reading them on her own. It wasn’t even one of the funny and appealing easy readers that I’d recently taken to bringing home from work and casually scattering around the living room.

Nope. My daughter’s first solo read was one she fished out of the Book Bag she brought home weekly from her first grade classroom. One she’d picked out herself from the easiest Book Basket. One that had nothing to do with her parents’ standards or taste or childhood memories. One neither of her literary-snob parents would have chosen for her in a hundred years.

As the snow fell outside, she slowly, proudly, and with growing confidence sounded out her way through Diego Saves the Tree Frogs.

When she was done, I let out a breath (I don't think I'd breathed more than once or twice the whole time she was reading), and she declared, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! I can’t believe I read a whole book!”

I am never gonna love TV-tie-in books with my whole heart. And I’m glad that my kid has retained her interest in the relatively un-merchandized literary fare we’ve been exposing her to since she was a baby. But that day, if Diego or his creators or the book’s author, Sarah Wilson, had somehow appeared on our doorstep, I would have smothered them with grateful hugs and given them a big mug of hot chocolate. With marshmallows.

December 19, 2007

Next week: Battle of the Book-Lovers: when parents’ and kids’ literary tastes don’t align.

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