Thursday, October 13, 2011


I was excited when Cal started making the move from reading-as-deciphering to reading-for-comprehension because finally, finally, we could do nerd stuff together.  As a child endowed with neither facility at sports nor a particularly gregarious nature, I read a lot of books as a child, many of which I remember vividly to this day.  Not that they were all quality books by any means--I do think I read both "Sweet Valley High" and "The Babysitters Club" series in their entirety well beyond the age when I should have known better--but I read a lot of other books too.  And I read constantly.  I read at dinner, with the book in my lap under the table.  I read in the shower (note: not advisible).  I read on the subway on the way to school, and I read when I was outdoors, ostensibly getting some fresh air and exercise.  I read a lot.  So when Cal started to get to the age where he could actually start read on his own, for fun, I was super-excited, both for him, and for me to finally have an excuse to re-read the full Beverly Cleary opus.

And I have to admit, it was a bit of an uphill climb at first.  Cal liked being read to (I think I'd mentioned the "Illustrated Classics" series here already, and he particularly enjoyed the science-fiction-adventure story picks of that lot--your War of the Worlds, your 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, what have you) but I still think he viewed reading for himself as a bit of a slog.  I got him some easier chapter books (in particular he had mentioned reading some of the "Cam Jansen" books at school--basically your standard kid mystery series, Case of the Missing Dinosaur Bones, that kind of thing--and while it didn't seem like great storytelling I did particularly like that the protagonist was a girl and her best friend was a boy who was always babysitting his baby brother) and Cal worked his way through a dozen of those, mostly when I asked him to.  But it still kind of felt like that to him: work.  He'd read two or three chapters after school, mostly on assignment, and then, duty dispensed, he'd go and do something he really wanted to do, like write the definitive illustrated reference guide to prehistoric reptiles or some such thing.

I figured I wouldn't push it.  I figured he wasn't ready.  I figured (and this I kept to myself, but with growing dismay) that not every kid loves to read, and just because Cal didn't want to read in the bathtub didn't mean that he wouldn't have a rich intellectual life.  (This was a recurring theme--many of my paperbacks from childhood and adolescence were more than a little warped from water exposure.)

I got the Harry Potter series for Cal...kind of...but also just because I thought they were books that were worth owning, period.  I expected Cal would like to read them eventually, of course, but I didn't really think he'd be quite ready for them yet--some of the writing and plot are a little dense at points, and the dialogue and vernacular is a touch continental (stuff like Ron exclaiming "bloody hell!" all the time, people referring to large groups of students as "you lot"--which I guess is the British version of all y'all) but, you know, I figure we'd have them lying around for later, and maybe Cal would pick them up and leaf through them if and when he wanted to.

A couple of months ago, we started reading "The Sorcerer's Stone" to Cal at bedtime.  We watched the movie.  Cal started getting interested, pointing out that while he liked the movie because it "showed what things look like," he liked the book better because it had details and some side plots that necessarily got dropped from the film version.  (I'd argue, actually, that they weren't judicious enough in their editorial process for that first film--have you tried to re-watch that thing?  God, it's like Exposition City, and it just goes on forever.)  We got through "The Chamber of Secrets," Joe and I reading most of it aloud, Cal reading some of it himself.  First he read it aloud to us.  Then I started noticing him silently reading it alone, while I was cooking dinner, or taking care of Mack.  We finished the second book and instantly he picked up "The Prisoner of Azkaban."  He started reading in the car.  I took him to Target the other day (to buy underwear for Mack, remember), and he was reading as we made our way down the aisles.  These past few weeks, we've been seeing more of this:

He has one of the lanterns from our camping trip in the bottom bunk of his bed, and he says up late, reading Harry Potter.  He begs us to let him read for ten more minutes, to let him finish the chapter, he'll go to sleep right after, but it's the part with Quidditch, mom, just let me finish the part with the Quidditch.  Right under our noses, he's made the jump from reading for comprehension to reading for enjoyment.

I guess the real conclusion from all this is something that no one needed me to point out, which is that J.K. Rowling is a very good writer.  That, and maybe we need to get a better reading light for Cal's room.


  1. christine2:33 PM

    I wasn't much of a reading-for-pleasure person in high school or college (reading textbooks took up most of my time, and after those I inevitably had to grab a copy of PEOPLE magazine to let my brain relax), but I will say that I looked forward to every single Harry Potter book that came out. Now that I'm in grad school, with a bit more time on my hands, I've rediscovered the joys of going to bed with a book and reading until 5 AM. Cal's getting a good start!

  2. That is awesome. My son is the same way about reading -- it's good to hear that he may come around one day!

  3. That's so exciting, congrats!
    A whole new world opens up for him and for you too.
    I guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

  4. Anonymous2:57 PM

    It's a wonderful jump. A whole world has just opened up! Well done you!

  5. Oh, I envy him! I clearly remember reading Deathly Hallows in one night right after my anatomy exam (I was 22... so what?)
    I hope he will keep the enthusiasm!

  6. Ditto on being jealous--Cal keeps saying how he CAN'T WAIT to get to the "Deathly Hallows," and I keep telling him that he shouldn't be too impatient, because after the 7th book, there are NO MORE TO READ and that is tragic.

    (I started reading Harry Potter in med school too. I read the first four all at once, and then the remaining three as they were released.)

  7. Anonymous4:31 PM


  8. Chris6:21 PM

    I also have a vast collection of water damaged books from reading in the tub! I think passing on a love of reading is one of the best things you can do for a child. Have you bought any other fantasy-genre books for Cal? As a child any book with magic was instantly captivating.

  9. I think I channeled you when I was younger and reading-Sweet Valley and Baby Sitters Club!! Mama and Daddy grew up in India, so they banned TV by the time we were old enough to turn it on and ALL I DID was read.

    When I went to Switzerland last summer for an internship, the first thing I found was the English bookshop. Not the chocolate. Not the food. The bookstore.

    Glad to see Cal loves reading!

  10. Anonymous7:26 PM

    I started reading Harry Potter between book 4 and book 5 (book 5 is the first one I got the day it was released) at age 23 or so, I think. I kept telling people I was sure I would hate it because I hate fantasy books. Turns out that I loved them so much that at age 30, a big part of a trip to Ireland was finding things that reminded my friend and I about Harry Potter (i.e. the cliffs look like the movie, the library at Trinity college, the names in churches, the tour guide that looked like Harry himself etc!)!!

    Anyway, I am pretty envious of Cal getting to read those books at an age where it is still completely magical.

    And about book 7, I kind of have a hard time reading it because of how much it sucks that it is the last one! I have this whole thing about how she could have written 8 books....given us year 7 at school and then the 8th book for most of the book 7 plot.

  11. Anonymous7:53 PM

    As a kid with straight black Asian hair, I hated Susan and her perfect blond curls too!

  12. Love Harry Potter!

    Do you worry about Cal developing myopia since he's such a voracious reader? My mom used to tell me that my eyesight would go bad if I read lying down (well, I did eventually develop myopia at age 11 years, but not from reading lying down, but probably genes had something to do with it + I was also reading A LOT)

  13. This entry has made me realize that I need to incorporate reading for pleasure back into my life. Ever since I left my job in August and headed back to school, I haven't read for pleasure since I got back in the classroom! Going to find something to download on my Kindle right now!

    Go Cal! Harry Potter is the best!

  14. Anonymous8:52 PM

    I am very impressed that he is reading at such an advanced level. My youngest daughter and Cal are almost the exact same age (7/20/2005). She is just now getting the hang of reading and still has difficulty with about every third word. We are still sounding out "ch" "th" "wh", etc.

    Good for Cal. Are his teachers impressed with his reading skills? Surely he must be the most advanced in his class.

  15. For me the moment came right when I turned 7 at the end of first grade: It was the Little House on the Prairie series that did it for me. Harry Potter is more difficult I think. He's a really good reader!

    As a side note.... Oh how I wish I'd been allowed to read Sweet Valley High!!! So jealous.

  16. Jenny9:35 PM

    That is awesome that he loves to read now. I love Beverly Cleary. And I remember the "My Teacher is an Alien" series was pretty fun to read, too. I can't wait until my kids are old enough to read. I have to remind myself to read physical books instead of electronic ones, so they know I'm reading and not just playing on the computer/device.

  17. I used to read all my books in my native language. But then in my secondary school, I started to pick up the English version.

    And all because I wanted to read Harry Potter's newest book. (It'd take about six months before we can start reading the Indonesian version).

    So I probably have to thank JK Rowling for making me learn English. :D

  18. Cam Jansen!!! "Click!"

    Ohh second grade.

  19. Anonymous4:58 AM

    Harry Potter...who is that??

  20. medrecgal11:40 AM

    A fabulous post...reading for pleasure is a great tool to have in your arsenal, and I've been doing it since I was three. I wasn't a series girl, but I did (and still do) a lot of reading. I was reading the medical journals by the time I was twelve (geeky, I know!). Good for Cal; it will serve him well in the future to be well-read.

  21. Atlantagirl10:34 PM

    OMDG: I was reminiscing tonight to my fiance about how much I loved the Little House series! I asked him if he read it and, with a snort of derision, he said no. I guess it's pretty girly, though I'd think the pioneer spirit spans both genders!

    What got me on the topic is this new book I checked out at the library called The Wilder Life, by this author who visits all the 'Little House' locations!! Haven't started reading it, though.

  22. Elizabeth10:43 PM

    I loved this post. I also was a voracious reader as a kid, both in the bathtub and out (hell, I still am a voracious bathtub reader), and both quality books and the BSC. I certainly hope that my ten-month old daughter will love reading as much as I did. She does enjoy being read to now, so maybe that's a good sign...

    I have a sister who's much younger than I am. For the longest time at age 3 or 4, she was only interested in having Pokemon books read to her. I bribed her to sit still and listen to just one damn chapter of Sorceror's Stone, because I thought she'd like it. I read sort of fast so she wouldn't get up and leave during the first chapter. At the end, she looked up at me and said, "Keep READIN'!" We read her the first three books in a month; by the time the fourth one came out, she was reading it herself.

    Go Cal! Keep it up!

  23. Atlantagirl -- I didn't think the series was SO girly, but in general little boys don't read books with girl protagonists because.... well isn't it obvious?

    Not sure if it's true, but I heard once that Harry Potter was originally about Hermione, but that the publisher made Rowling change it to Harry because they knew that only little girls would read the book if the protagonist was a girl. I hope that's not true, because it makes me a little sad.

  24. Anonymous10:31 AM

    The second Little House book is told from the male perspective, I think it's called Farm Boy or something along those lines. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote it from her husband's POV when he was a child. Though I am female it was my favorite book because it goes into detail about the food. Mmmmmm...home cooked country food.

  25. Anon -- Yes, Farmer Boy! I think it was the third book. I think my favorite was On the Banks of Plum Creek (#4), because they lived in an underground house which I thought was cool.

  26. Congratulations! That must be a wonderful feeling. I read the Harry Potter series as I was growing up, and I think there is something (extra) magical about reading them as a child. I was also a voracious reader (and still am). But I used to get in trouble for reading at the table, especially when we had company, and I'm fairly certain I didn't do my eyes any favors by reading from the light of the street lamps after I was supposed to be in bed. I needed reading glasses at 18. Definitely buy Cal that new reading lamp! I know I just talked about myself a lot, but the truth is, of hope that someday I can feel as proud as you must feel now knowing that the love of reading is going to teach him more about life and about himself at an accelerated rate.

  27. Loved the BSC...I think I wanted to be best friends with all of them at one point! And Sweet Valley, it started off so innocent with the "Kids" series and turned downright raunchy and tragic once they graduated and went off to Sweet Valley University! Also, I believe SVH was at one point a TV series, albeit a short-lived one- the episodes are on YouTube-

  28. Although I really don't care for the Harry Potter series at all, they were also the first books my boy read when he turned from a reluctant to a voracious reader. So go Ms. Rowling.

    As for the girl/boy protagonist thing, I think we often don't give boys enough credit for being willing to listen to books about girls, and because of that, they never get the chance to discover what great books some of them are. My boys like being read to (and I was a girl) so I read them the books I loved. If a story is a good story, boys will like it.

    So far my 8 and 11yo boys have listened happily to the entire Little House series (and yes, the food in Farmer Boy!), The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Harriet the Spy, Strawberry Girl, and a host of other books with girl protagonists - along with plenty of books featuring the fellows.

  29. Annie7:49 AM

    I'm glad I'm not the only nerd who read in the shower! Those Babysitter's Club books bindings are really quite secure. I loved to fill the tub up and read in there for hours.

  30. Anonymous10:54 AM

    Did you find a place to shower/get ready at JHU?

  31. Boys take a little longer than girls to get into reading. I think it's because girls live a little more in fairyland during the early childhood. But eventually they do get it. J K Rolling is a genius at getting people reading. You should look into the Star Wars Series. Both of my boys were captivated by them.

  32. Anonymous10:13 PM

    back in the was safe to read on the subway. now i keep my head up and remain vigilant.

  33. Root_doc5:12 PM

    Don't be afraid to journey into the Ricky Ricotta series ( my 7 year old loves), Humphrey the Hamster, missile mouse, Secrets of Droon, or Vincent Shadow: Toy Inventor. Stay away from Captain Underpants.Unless you are a huge fan of the potty humor genre.

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