Friday, September 19, 2008

A is for Apple, B is for Bored

One of The Boy's daily homework assignments is to read for 20 minutes. This has been a struggle in previous years, but this year The Boy has vowed to put all his effort into schoolwork. Therefore, it was with great sense of purpose that he pulled out his reading book - a peppy sounding little tale called "Pig can Jig" - and took his place on the sofa next to me, ready to regale me with stories of prancing porcine pals.

I have a faint memory of the Dick and Jane series of books that were used to teach us basic words and reading skills. I can't remember them being very exciting, so I was delighted that modern teaching methods involve such wonderfully entertaining concepts as pigs doing jigs. A few pages into the book soon dispelled this notion.

I can't say this book is any improvement over the tried and true adventures of Dick and Jane. There are cats who are fat and there's dad who had ham and jam and the pig that does jig. All the three letter words you can think of with all their rhymes. But there's no story, there's no plot. There are words strung together in accepted grammatical patterns; but aside from the sense of satisfaction he gets from being able to read the sentence, there's little joy to be had from them.

I started to understand a bit better why Johnnie can't read. It's self-defense against death by boredom.

Perhaps it is nostalgia that makes me think that Dick and Jane and their little dog (what was his name?) were more interesting and fun. But, even if they weren't, they were at least kids like us, doing the sorts of things that adults think that kids do. Sure they were written for a world of Beaver Cleavers, but for some reason we incorporated that ideal into our world and didn't notice that there were no real families like that.

I could be totally off base here, but would it be so difficult to write books that made more sense, told a story that engaged the imagination and could be mastered by those new to literacy?

If there is one good thing about these "starter" books, it is that it creates a drive to help this child master the English language, so that when it is time for the evening's reading, I can have something interesting to listen to.

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