“Let children choose what they want to read,” the summer reading handout from our school instructs. “Even those popular fictions parents frown upon.”
Somehow, when they came up with that advice, I don’t think they anticipated the reading selections we’ve encountered around here this summer.
Lilah began the summer by plucking Sense and Sensibility off my shelf and insisting I read it to her. She didn’t understand a damned thing I was reading, but she doesn’t get most of Blueberries for Sal, either, so I guess it didn’t make much of a difference whether we were reading Jane Austen or Robert McCloskey.
Then there was Benjamin’s fascination with The Making of Americans. This is a tome that I once dedicated an entire month to reading. Perhaps impressed by the sheer heft of it, Ben pulled it off the shelf.
“Mommy, can you read this to me?” Sure, I can read it to you. Just don’t ask me to explain it to you.
We did three sessions and made it five pages in, which is four pages more than most people do. He dumped Gertrude Stein the minute the new American Girl catalogue came in.
“Mommy, I want an American Girl Doll,” Benjamin declared. Now, I’m all for buying boys dolls, but those suckers go for a hundred bucks a pop, and that’s before the outfits, the puppy, and the outfit for the puppy.
This created a dilemma. You see, if a girlchild asked for the doll, it would be because her friends had it and she was being invited to American Girl birthday parties. Benjamin just thought the dolls looked pretty. While he had just had his fourth birthday and we hadn’t gotten him a present, we were not interested in spending that much for a doll that would just be another toy to him.
We came up with a new policy: we will not discuss American Girl Dolls with children under five. When they turn five, they are free to ask their grandparents for a hundred dollar doll with two hundred dollars worth of accessories. Grandma would get a good laugh out of it.
I came up with an even more practical solution. Lilah and I picked up a few Lionel train catalogues, and Benjamin has taken to reading one of those. Lilah sleeps with the other one.
Zachary – the child with the actual summer reading list – is reading his way through the recommended books in whatever order I can get them out of the library. We are keeping a separate list of the books we read to him. Latest on the list? Le Morte d’Arthur. Because Malory is just the right speed for a five-year-old.
What amazes me the most is he actually comprehends what I’m reading to him. The book was published in 1485. The version we have has somewhat modernized language, but it is still completely baffling to my husband. Yet our rising first-grader understands it so well that it is keeping him up at night.
“Maybe we should stop reading that book if you can’t sleep,” I told him.
“Yeah, maybe I won’t get nightmares from it when I’m seven.” That’s just what I was thinking – set Malory aside till second grade.
Maybe it’s time to start looking around for some of that popular fiction that parents frown upon.