I didn’t pay attention to my seven year old son’s hobbies, until his school held a reading marathon and I was required to record his daily page count. My first grade son read 164 chapter book pages per day.
How could a child who attended school full time, had after school sports four days a week and spent weekends boating and surfing find time to read?
Thanks to sensational story-tellers, he kept a book in his hands at all times.
He became hooked on reading when we discovered the howling R.L. Stein hardbacks. No boy could resist opening the cover when he knew his reward was a moaning ghost.
Next, he decided to read the C.S. Lewis, Narnia chronicles during first grade so he could beat his older sister who read them when she was in third grade. Thanks to his persistent questions regarding the differences between the movie and novel versions of the Lightning Thief, his comprehension and speed developed with the Riordan series. Finishing each book in three to five days, he became an official story junkie.
Where did it all begin?
Perhaps two weeks after he was born. Feeling stir-crazy, I played traditional folk-songs on the stereo. With many more hours to spare during each day, I read aloud. Three times per day, I’d pick out seven picture books. That was twenty-one per day. Hundreds of fantastical books with dazzling artwork and catchy phrases kept his brain stimulated. Some books were hand-me-downs from my childhood and his big sister. His interest remained alert due to gifts inside envelopes, recordings of animal sounds, speaking narrators, and digital elements geared for boys.
By the time he was four, I read Bruce Coville books out loud. My son proved he was listening all those years by finding similarities in the plots. One afternoon, he gathered his Coville books together and counted the pages.
“Hey, in all his books, his first chapter is X number of pages long. They enter the fantasy world around Y number of pages. The bad guy shows up on number Z page. Do you think the author did that on purpose?” my son unknowingly explained to me.
“Really? Coville has a system? The turning points are planned according to the page number? Coville must’ve found a rhythm that worked. That’s impressive that you noticed.” I wondered why I never thought to count the pages.
My son would ask me to reread certain scenes, digesting whether a boy would actually twist a ring and say the magic words if he knew he’d turn into a monster. Never quite sure whether a girl should trust a unicorn, he wanted to fully understand the cave scene.
Then, the big moment came. While vacationing in Virgin Gorda, my son’s reading appetite peaked. I purchased a Treasure Island book with a CD narrative. The following day as he thumbed through the pages, we went snorkeling at the cave where Treasure Island is set. In the heat of the day, my son sat on our hotel room floor, ignoring beach toys in a giant basket beside him, and he followed the words as the book’s CD told the story aloud. My son learned how to spell the words. As a reward, we spent the trip visiting each site that inspired the book. He was mesmerized.
Next, I was in charge of reading the animated R.L. Stein books, but I wasn’t dedicated enough. My son wanted to know what happened too soon for me to keep up, so he started reading during his bath. He quickly moved on to the C.S. Lewis series, sometimes accidentally dropped his books into the water. While one book dried on the towel rack, he’d switch to another, until he adopted the habit of reading three books at once.
Along came the Black Stallion. A boy, an adventure, and my son noticed typos. He’d list the page numbers and errors when he left for school. He kept a stat of book titles with typos in his mind.
Could his interest in reading have developed prior to his birth?
During my pregnancy, I had dutifully listened to classical music and limited my diet to fruits, vegetables, dairy, and during the third term, fish. I meditated, walked three miles every day and did floor exercises until my seventh month. After he was born, I took him for daily walks, stopping to show him the cackling egrets during mating season, and collecting leaves and rocks for us to study in books piled under his stroller along our path.
His interest in reading might have begun when I was a child and my family respected books. I loved reading my older siblings’ schoolbooks to compare what scientific discovers had rebuked their dated “facts.” A 1900s encyclopedia kept me occupied with all their forgotten historical figures. I read aloud to my Siamese cat each night. Her favorite story was about a lost dog looking for his mother. Before that, my mother took me to the library each week. It was in the historic section of our small community, down by the weedy railroad tracks next to a row of Victorian houses. I loved the outing. The library was old and so were the selections. What wasn’t there to love about the illustrations in the Little Babaji book?
While all these elements made a difference, the reason my son loved to read was because of the outstanding stories in print. They enticed him more than movies. He evaluated the characters’ behavior. He noticed if someone was mentioned in chapter three and never brought up again. He asked me whether it was a mistake or perhaps Suzanne Collins intended for the boy to stay behind in the underworld.
“I don’t know,” was my canned response. It was the same thing I said whenever he asked about gaps in movie plots. “You’ll have to read the book in order to find out. The book explains all the parts they leave out of the movie.”
And he did, and still does. Early childhood reading trains the mind to evaluate, analyze, and form conclusions. Visual stimulation flips on latent areas of the mind. Incorporating text with daily life and real world settings puts words into perspective. Such mind development, crafted with audio within the brain as the reader digests the words, and symbolism from the artistry and words, is a critical step toward baby geniuses.