Wednesday, January 04, 2006

LS: The Gateway to Reading

Special Charis Connection Encore . . .

I’m sitting with Jake at Atlanta Bread Company as I write. He’s slugging down a cream soda, doing the tongue experiment thing at the opening of the bottle; I’m drinking a decaf latte. I’m supposedly working on my novel; he’s reading Harry Potter-The Prisoner of Azkaban. We’re biding our time until we pick up his big sister Ty from her high school’s football game.

Jake’s just started really reading fiction this summer. Always a non-fiction kinda kid, he’s recently been banned from TV, video games and such in order to get a grip on homework and the daily responsibilities of growing into an older kid. This fiction foray started with a series about Bionicles, the latest Lego fad that Jake adores. The Bionicle novels crack me up! It’s like reading another language unless you’re into the whole alternate universe of Toas and Rakshis and Raghas. Yeah, I know, I don’t understand it either. All I know is, he loves them. He builds them, and now he can read about them using their cool tools to fight the bad guys.

The books are horrible to me. I read them and want to edit, edit, edit. But you know what? Jake enjoys the heck out of them. They keep him moving forward in the world of reading, and have ushered him into the realm of meatier children’s fiction like JK Rowling. After that, who knows? As a mom, I don’t really care. Yeah, it would be fun to say my 11-year-old is reading the Iliad or David Copperfield, but that would be my pride speaking, and I’ve already got enough trouble with that sin as it is!

I yearn for reading to take my son on a lifelong journey where books aren’t read to make you appear smarter or more in-the-know, but are more like old friends who chat with you by the fire and converse with you about life as you’ve never quite seen it before, like a blind date, an exotic vacation. I want books to not be alternative sources of information, but the end in and of themselves. I want Jake to enjoy fiction, to become so engrossed in the pages and the world and characters found inside, not all of them perfect and fun, and that somehow it changes him for the better. Facts only go so far. Jake will change and grow not because a fact was pounded into his brain, but because he felt something and responded from somewhere deep within.

So when Jake reads about a little boy named Harry who feels out of place no matter what world he inhabits, yet behaves with courage in the midst of doubt and fear, perhaps he will realize that he too can face his basilisks with strength of heart. When Jake reads about a little girl named Hermione who isn’t accepted by the majority of her peers, but works hard against the odds, and succeeds, perhaps he’ll realize that a little elbow grease and determination can overcome the naysayers who tell us we are born to be nothing. And when Jake reads about a boy named Ron who is a loyal friend and companion, who fights his fears for the sake of the friend he loves—a friend who loves at all times—perhaps he will see that friendship is something to be given away lavishly even in the dark, lean hours of our lives.

How exciting for him to be at the starting point on this journey. How exciting for me as his mother to get to watch this child sitting beside me now, mouth as red as state fair licorice, light eyes darting to and fro beneath dark lashes, looking up and telling me what happened every three minutes. How my heart skips over itself in joyful little beats.

I remember the series that started my feet on the road to reading stories: The Bobbsey Twins. How about you? What books showed you the joy of the story? What books changed you from the inside out?

pax Christi,


Lisa Samson is the author of 17 novels including Club Sandwich,
Available in your bookstores now.


At 8:41 AM, Blogger Deborah Raney said...

Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series made a light go on inside me: a little Kansas farm girl could grow up to be a writer! Who knew! : ) And what fun it was years later to share the books with my own daughters.

Great column, Lisa!

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Cindy Swanson said...

No doubt about it: for me it was Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," "Little Men," and "Jo's Boys." When my parents became missionaries to Lebanon, we had no TV, and I fell in love with "The Chronicles of Narnia," Enid Blyton, and Noel Streatfield. I cannot imagine life without being able to enter the new worlds offered by fiction books!

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Stuart said...

hmm... thinking back far in time...

I think the earliest books that really pulled me into reading were:

"The Dragon King Saga" by Stephen Lawhead

"The Chronicles of Narnia"


"The Archives of Anthropos" by John White

At 4:24 PM, Blogger LaShaunda said...

The Little House Series and Louisa May Alcott books. They started the writing bug inside.

I'm looking forward to sharing these books with my children.

At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anne-with-an-e from Green Gables. I wanted a "bosom friend" like her Diana.

At 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely Anne of Green Gables - the first books that I saved up money to buy myself!

At 11:46 AM, Blogger Domino said...

My parents caught me on a home movie as I read in a lawn chair in the back yard. The cameraman sneaked up behind me, a four year old whose new ability to read took off like lightning, and watched me read a story about a circus donkey. My earliest favorite book was The Princess Who Couldn't Laugh.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Dianne said...

Trixie Beldon & the Bobbsey Twins. We (my sister & I) didn't just read them; we play-acted everything. "Mom, I'm Honey, this is Di and you're Aunt So&so today, okay?" Oh and we how longed for cute big brothers and cousins like Trixie had!

At 12:05 AM, Blogger Donna-Jean Breckenridge said...

Can't decide - it was either:
lying awake at night up in the loft, the smell of the goats down below, the Alpine breeze whistling through the tall pines, seeing the stars out my little window, feeling safe in knowing the Alm-Uncle was nearby...

or walking across the dark London street in the sharp ice-rain, holding that treasure of a hot roll up to my mouth and taking the first warm delicious bite, thinking maybe, just maybe, things would get better, and someone would finally realize I was indeed a kind of royalty...

Oops. I keep forgetting. It didn't happen to me, those were books I read. :-) "Heidi" and "A Little Princess" were so real, it's honestly as though I remember being them, instead of reading them.

I had a lot of childhood lives :-) (Then there was that time in 8th grade when I was so overwhelmed by Catherine's death, I wrote in my diary "my best friend died today," and I moped so much my normally very-understanding dad said if I didn't get over it, he'd take my copy of "Wuthering Heights" away...)

A favorite topic. Thanks! (I just finished "Club Sandwich," and enjoyed it very much. I'd take it with me down the shore and get so caught up, I'd forget to look at the waves!...Funny to think I knew your husband when he was the baby brother of my own little friend, Heather. He wasn't the one your mother-in-law left behind in the store once, though. Odd the things a kid remembers!)

At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In sixth grade suffering the brutality of children that didn't know how to deal with someone who was different (big difference- I was their first Puerto Rican) and finding an escape into a safe, wonderous world, where being different could be good. Ahhhhh the things I've learned, explored, lived since then within the pages of a book. It was gift from still is.

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Your column provoked lots of fond memories. For me, it was, in elementary and junior high school:
Nina Grant, Pediatric Nurse
Victoria Holt novels
Grace Livingston Hill novels
My Antonia
Lantern in Her Hand
Mrs. Mike
Little Women
Christy (ah, beloved Christy, Catherine Marshall's famous tome)

Sometime in the 1980s, Today's Christian Woman asked readers to write in and tell them what book they'd recently enjoyed. They wanted to write an article about it. I wrote an impassioned letter about how good Tisha was, the story of a young woman who goes to Alaska to teach. I opened my magazine an issue or two later and grew red faced when I saw that not one novel was mentioned. They were all nonfiction. I felt like a dolt. But looking back, I can see that fiction has always been my great love in reading. I'm sure that's why I'm writing it now.

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Johnny Tremain opened my eyes as a young teen to reading for pleasure. I will always be grateful to the teacher who handed it to me.

The stories about King Arthor and Merlin by Lady Mary Stewart launched my imagination in so many powerful ways. I treasure those books like many treasure The Chronicles of Narnia.


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