Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reading aloud

For the past few nights, Chris has been reading the book Stuart Little to Ben at bedtime.

This may not sound like a big deal, but it is.

Unlike most kids his age, Ben has never allowed us to read chapter books to him. He would rather read by himself, or listen to audio books while he follows along in the text. He seems to want control over the experience.

Part of if might be that he prefers to hear a story and see the words at the same time and that's difficult when reading chapter books in bed. Part of it might be that he craves (ahem, requires) completeness and can't bear to stop mid-story.

Another reason might be that his because of his hyperlexia, reading - the very act of decoding text - has always been a comforting and regulating activity for him, his go-to strategy for decompression. He has no need to let someone do it for him, just as I wouldn't ask a friend to get a massage so I could relax.

When he does ask us to read to him, it's usually a book that has become a bedtime ritual, like A Child's Garden of Verses. He listens to it, drifting off, as if it were an incantation in Latin rather than a story.

And all this while, I've wondered, despairingly, if we'd ever read chapter books together, if I'd be able to share all those books that meant so much to me as a child.

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Casey, read aloud to our class every day. We may not have realized it at the time, but she had impeccable taste in literature and introduced us to the cannon of essential children's books.

That year, we made our way through Charlie and Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Homer Price stories, and many more.

These books have everything an eight-year-old desires - humor, fantasy, danger, the grotesque, even ideas about life and death. Every day, we all sat cross-legged at her feet silently listening, waiting to hear what happened next, craning our necks as she stopped to show us the occasional illustration.

We all cried when Charlotte died and when Aslan was horrifically defeated by the White Witch. We all gasped when the birds lifted the peach over the ocean and when the glass elevator went through the roof.

Hearing these books read aloud was easily one of the highlights of my early education. Unfortunately today's standardized tests can't possibly measure the value a child gets from hearing beautiful language spoken aloud and being exposed to the often complicated ideas in great literature.

So, I'm crossing my fingers that reading chapter books at night will finally catch on, as much for my sake as for Ben's. And when it does, I have Mrs. Casey's reading list and I'm determined that we'll work our way through it book by book.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Career counseling

I used to worry about not being able to have conversations with Ben, wondering when - no, if - we would ever just talk. But in the last couple of years, Ben's language skills have progressed to the point where we can have fairly sustained, back and forth conversation.

He still struggles much of the time and I'm not saying it's like My Dinner with Andre around here, but there are times now where we really do just talk.

Like last night while getting ready for bed.

Ben: Mommy, I wish I could go on a real adventure.

Me: What would you do on a real adventure?

Ben: Warrior things. I would fight bad guys. I would fight in the Civil War.

Me: The Civil War was a long time ago. And warrior things are really for grown ups. So if you want to be a warrior, you can do that when you grow up. You can join the Army. People in the Army protect us.

Ben considered this for a moment as I continued, trying to be matter-of-fact, knowing - hoping - that he'd forget this conversation long before he reaches the age to enlist.

Me: But when you're a warrior, or solidier, you have to live far away from home and I would miss you.

Ben considered this again. Then I heard a familiar tremble in his voice, the one he gets when he's on the verge of tears.

Ben: But, mommy...What if there's a bad guy...what if I get killed?

Me: Yes, being a warrior is very dangerous.


Ben: I think when I grow up, I'll have a job in a big office.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A poetic take on Hyperlexia

Occasionally, the Google Alert I've set to inform me when someone writes about Hyperlexia turns up something notable or interesting. But rarely do I come across anything as delightful as this moving poem by Edward Byrne, a poet, professor, and editor of the Valparaiso Poetry Review.


My son eyed the large and wide print
. . . . . stenciled across an interstate billboard.

At three, he’d already taught himself
. . . . . to read over a year earlier, even before

he could tell anyone how well he knew
. . . . . to spell words we had never heard him

say. My wife and I were surprised
. . . . . once again by the way he spoke terms

learned through no method we know,
. . . . . on this day reciting lines of a highway

advertisement shining under bright
. . . . . summer sunlight, its bold gold and red

lettering—Family accommodations,
. . . . .
adventurous activities, and exhilarating

attractions ahead—sending a message
. . . . . to tourists that now seems meant more

to us as a lesson we only discovered
. . . . . somewhere much farther down the road.

—Edward Byrne

Exhilarating attractions ahead, indeed.

He kindly gave me permission to share this here. The poem is featured in the Spring issue of the Bellevue Literary Review. You can visit Edward's Byrne's blog, One Poet's Notes, to read more and to leave a comment about how much you like this poem.