Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Words, Words, Words. They Run In The Family


My old man taught remedial reading. When his students challenged his assertion that children as young as four could learn to read, he brought me into the classroom, stood me up in front, and handed me a book. I stammered my way through "Randolph, the Bear Who Said No," then held the book up to the class, pointed at a picture, and told the students, "See. This is Wandolph."

Encouraged...well, pushed by The Old Man, Myra - my wife - and I had our son, Casey, reading long before his fifth birthday as well. By the time Casey was six, his sister, Erin, was three, and had grown tired of having her brother ignore her in favor of books. She told me she wanted to read too, and I should show her how. I was skeptical, but I read through a book for her, tracing the words with my finger, then had her read it with me. Then I asked her to read it alone, which she did flawlessly. I thought she might've been just exercising a good memory, so I picked up an unrelated book, opened it, and told her to read. Which she did, again flawlessly.

The two kids used to go to the neighborhood library, pull books off shelves, and stagger up to the checkout counter, balancing armfuls as high as the tops of their heads. One day, a new librarian told them perhaps they should take just one or two books at a time. The children's librarian, Ms. Goldmanis, overheard, and told the newbie, "Those two can take as many as they'd like. They'll be back in a few days with all their books read."

Now Erin has a son, Simon, seventeen months old. She and husband Peter have been reading to the kid literally since he was born. Thanks to contributions from his grandparents and family friends such as children's author Peg Kehret and Dennis and Linda Ronberg, former owners of Linden Tree Bookstore in Los Altos CA, Simon has a world-class collection of books, many signed by the authors, and he likes to pull them down from the shelf and present them for reading to his parents and grandparents. Sometimes he'll bring a book off Erin's reading pile, and she'll tell him, "This one doesn't have any pictures. But look at all the words! You'll be able to read all these words one day!"

Yesterday, as Erin was at work in her law office, Simon came in, took a book from a shelf, sat, and opened the book. As he turned the pages, Erin realized he was saying, "Words, words, words." What made it even more funny is that the book was a dictionary - a Japanese-American dictionary.

I think the kid's working up to challenge his mother's family record. And apparently, his father's as well. According to Grandma Marge, Simon has five months to learn to read the numbers on license plates.

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