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.


Stephanie said...

This is an area where you were a huge influence on us. Your blog introduced me to the concept of junior novelizations and, as a result, Isaac now has a whole shelf full of them. I thought it would help him with abstract thought to be able to connect what he was reading to what he saw on the screen.

We've made our way through "A Trip to the North Pole" (the jr. novel of "The Polar Express"), "Wall-E," "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille." Tonight was chapters 4 and 5 of "Lilo and Stitch." It's been a wonderful bedtime ritual for us and all thanks to a wonderful blogger and fellow hyperlexia-mom whom I've never met!

april_qian said...

I recently found your blog and instantaneously became a fan. You articulate so many issues our kids have so well, it's amazing.

My son Andy, 4 yr 4 mo, is also hyperlexic. He is bilingual, English/Chinese, could read and write English before 3, and now does so in Chinese as well. We live in West SJ/Cupertino area.

I will read more of your posts and write more later. Just a couple of quick thoughts for now:

1. There is a research paper I found on hyperlexia yahoo group that showed brain activity of a hyperlexic boy. Right brain visual areas were pronouncely more active when reading, as compared with other kids. It means somehow these kids use more visual control when decoding language.

I wonder if (like in my son) they "see" the language as a visual but not auditory form and thus takes it in in whole chunks the way it is that they see it. Like when we see a tree or a doll for the first time, that's what an object "should look like".

2. My son seemed to have learned English as a second language, Chinese less so. Long echolalic, reverse pronouns, etc. He started talking in Chinese, using repetitive single syllables, then all of a sudden took off repeating entire sentences from his favorite TV show, Wow Wow Wubbzy.