The insanely wonderful vice principal at my son's school is on a mission to get kids reading, so she has promised to KISS A PIG when the kids reach the set goal of reading for however many thousands of minutes she's planned out. ("That's how much I want kids reading!" she says.) Granted it's a small pig that is another teacher's pet, but still.... So my eight-year-old son has to read for a measly fifteen per night as part of his daily homework. Big deal, right? And with the incentive of watching his VP kiss a pig...I mean, come on! Nick is a very good reader and this should be no big deal, but what I'm met with every night is a myriad of complaints about how he hates reading, it's boring, has the timer gone off yet...?
This aggravates me to no end. Not only is reading not hard for him, but his mother is a goddam writer who loves reading! He should LOVE reading! He should be getting lost in fun stories, other worlds, interesting characters, off on wild adventures! But, no. He sees it as "work." This weekend he came home with a black and white photocopied book that he had to read twice out loud. Oh, and I had to sign a paper saying he'd done this. (But that's another rant.) So he read me the book, and good God was it the most boring, dry, piece of crap in the history of boring, dry crap.
Me: Nick, no wonder you think reading is boring if this is the kind of thing they make you read at school.
Kid: What do you mean?
Me: This is a horrible story.
Kid: It is?
Me: Yes. It's stupid and boring and it's beneath you. It's an awful book. I can't even call it a book, that's how bad it is. Who wrote this garbage? Aha! Author X! Well, we now know that we hate books by Author X! You're too old to be reading things like, "Snake crawled into the water to see his friend Duck. Duck was happy to see Snake." BORING. And now you're supposed to write down which part of the story you liked best???? Here's your answer: none of it. You liked none of it best because it was totally lame and failed to be vaguely intriguing because you are not an idiot. (I should note that poor Author X will remain unnamed even though Author X is clearly never going to make it big if all he does is write shiteous homework reading stories for second graders.)
Kid (starting to fill out his answer sheet): My favorite part was that the book was lame...
Me: No! Jeez, don't write that! Just make something up.
So it irks me beyond belief that this is the stuff the kids at school are being given to read. Granted, not all of the students are fantastic readers, and not all parents encourage reading at home, so there needs to be a variety of material presented, but you cannot tell me that no one can come up with anything better than this crud. I remember being in school and listening to my teacher read to us from wonderful chapter books. Every afternoon the whole class would be at full attention as our teacher read from something not involving Snake and Duck, and we'd always look forward to that part of the day. What happens next??? That's what I want for Nick.
I have vivid memories of reading as a child. A Bargain for Francis, Blueberries for Sal, a silly Grover story where he tries to play hide-and-seek by hiding in the pages of the book. (I still remember my favorite line, "You know, if you were my good friend, I would try to hide, and even if you saw me you could pretend that you did not see me.") I have my childhood copies of these books on Nick's overflowing shelf. One summer in Vermont, my mother read me The Borrowers and I can still picture us lying on towels together by the lake as she read chapter after chapter. I discovered Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, then All Creatures Great and Small and Gone With the Wind. (BTW, Gone With the Wind got me in big trouble when I refused to put the book down and look at the Swiss Alps. I mean, seriously, the alps have nothing on Rhett and Scarlett.)
And it's not like I've never read to Nick. I started reading to him when he w
as only a few weeks old and I still have the pile of Sandra Boynton books that I know by heart. The first time I knew Nick really understood a word was when I had him in my lap and read the word "fish" and he pushed me aside to point at the fish tank. We borrowed Dream Snow by Eric Carle so many times from the library that we finally had to get our own copy so I wouldn't worry about him breaking the button that produced music. And when he was older we fell in love with gorgeous picture books and rhythmic, enticing lines. At least four books before bed every night. I was thrilled when Nick seemed to like the Magic Treehouse chapter books and wanted more and more for his collection. But it turned out that what he was doing was just that: collecting. The way he used to collect Thomas trains or Webkinz or Pokemon cards. He didn't actually love the stories, just the act of owning the set! Sigh.... We watched some of "Crusoe" on TV (until we decided it was too violent. And then it got cancelled.) I bought him the kids' version of the book and he wasn't interested. We read enough of The Swiss Family Robinson for him to name our dog Fritz, but then he gave up on it.
So for now I'm trying to encourage "outside" reading without making Nick feel like it is homework. It would really help if the schools would not only verbally encourage reading, but would offer better take-home materials. I should say that there is a lovely, charming librarian at the school who is devoted to the children and has always helped Nick select books he likes from the library. Granted they are usually Pokemon books, but the librarian's attitude has been, "Well, at least he's reading!" True. I can be a bit of a book snob and would prefer Nick be drawn into stories I consider "good," but I'll take what I can get. I don't want him to think that reading is just something he has to do for school. I want him to love it the way that I do, so I'm waiting for that one book that makes it all click for him. The one book that captures his imagination and turns that light on and makes him go, "Yes. I get it now. I get why reading is so wonderful."