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.