Monday, July 1, 2013

Forbidden Fruit...or Lasagna

Earlier this week at the library, I watched a first-grade sized reader joyfully find a book about dolphins and share it with her mom and sister. I was all gooey about watching a young reader find a book that fit. But then, the mom said, "No- you can't take that one. Not nonfiction. Nonfiction doesn't count for summer reading."


Now that's crazy talk. My head was spinning with all the ways reading nonfiction can enrich your life as a reader, all the things it can teach you about organization as a writer, how empowering it is to find study topics that engage you...

The mom kept talking, "I. said. no. nonfiction." They walked to the computer catalog and looked up books for her, the older sister smugly holding a chapter book, the little one flipping through her dolphin book while the mother clicked, clicked, clicked.

I felt like I should say something.

Now I probably didn't have enough information here. Maybe there was something crazy going on with this kid. Maybe she was obsessive about nonfiction books- some sort of informational junkie. Maybe she has a photographic memory and will bore countless strangers with dolphin facts.

My new philosophy is this: "Say less." (Also known as "Trying to mind my own business.") So I did not intervene. I said nothing, but felt a deep sadness for this little nonfiction habitue who just wanted to learn about dolphins. I was so disheartened that a parent would manage their child's reading life in such an intrusive way. Who does that?

The next day, I was back at AADL with Fran and Claudia to turn in their summer reading sheets and pick their free books. (Woo-hoo!) Fran looked for a while and then picked a reasonable chapter book, Chomp. Now, it's not as appealing as Hoot or Flush, but I think he'll love Carl Hiaasen*. Wow. I did not intervene and my kid chose well for himself!
Seriously- who could resist this "snappy" cover art?

And then Claudia needed to choose. First she chose a Geronimo Stilton. Well, I thought, it could be worse. But there's no way I'm going to read that to her- it's not my scene. I know kids love it, but there's better stuff for her right now. She's only 5. I encourage her to keep looking on a different shelf of the cart. She pulls some crazy thick young adult chapter books out. Clearly, not the right shelf. I redirect her again.Then she found the licensed character books. Oh, horsefeathers. She picked a Pokemon reader; I shook my head. (Do kids still even play Pokemon?) She knows nothing of Pokemon. She picked a Lego Ninjago reader. (Kill me now.) 

"No, Claudia, don't pick something about TV- pick a book."

She held both crap-tastic books tightly in her hands. I showed her some really amazing picturebooks they had on the shelf and the new Bink and Gollie. Her knuckles grew white on her books. She wouldn't budge. 

I tried to explain, "Claudia- those are fine books to read, but they're not keeping books. Today, you get a book as a present. You should pick something you'll want to read over and over."

"I want these."

"Claude, you can check out a copy of those, but you need to chose something else for your keeping book." And I went on, "Or you're not taking a book today." Now I wasn't budging. 

Claudia glared at me, but her eyes caught a Garfield. "Fine." She resumed her stare. "I'll take this."

It was Garfield #53: Garfield Brings Home the Bacon.  I gave up. I smiled. "Wow, Claudia. Francis loves Garfield- I bet he'll read it to you. Now you have your own Garfield book! This one looks really funny. It's your first comic collection."

Surprisingly, Garfield eats a lot of lasagna in this book.

She carried the book to the van, still staring at me, and only diverted her eyes when she wanted to read her new book on the way home. Fran complemented her choice and peered over and read her a page. She got excited about words she recognized and seemed happy with her choice. 

As we drove home, I had a painful realization that I just interfered in Claude's reading life just as much as the nonfiction-snuffer-mom. Even if I have seen her choose "TV books" in the past and watched her abandon them minutes later, it was her choice to make from the cart. I began to judge myself very harshly: Was I helping her make an informed choice or simply intruding?

And then I realized that I was celebrating her choice of a Garfield book. A Garfield book! This was clearly her choice, not mine. Although critical about lasagna-cat-comics now, in elementary school I started quite a well-visited and cherished Garfield collection, so perhaps this is a necessary development for a reader. 

Now my head is spinning with all the ways Garfield can enrich your life. Perhaps we'll do some nonfiction reading about cats next.

*Hiaasen- always present in my lessons on polishing and titling. He's the master of the clever, multiple-meaning one word title.

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