This is a Bliss You Won’t Want to Miss
I’d asked Collin a couple weeks ago what he was reading over the summer. He’s 10. He loves playing football and Fortnite, building Legos, and doing flips on the trampoline with his brotherly cousins.
I thought fast. His father had loved Gary Paulsen as a boy. The story called “Hatchet” bubbled up like a fish on a hook. I went to Amazon and searched for a copy of Paulson’s book. Once it appeared, a prompt above the front cover inviting me to “look inside,” and I tapped it. Chapter 1 opened. The free sample was waiting for us. I called Collin over, saying, “I found it!” We were 12 miles from the library and 20 from the nearest bookstore. Reluctantly, he slid down onto the rug next to me. The artistic rendition of the small ax transported me back to another moment in time. It was the same tool we used to splinter off fire starters for campfires and slice off stakes for tarp systems over our tents to shed the rain more effectively.
His uncle and father -- my sons -- had liked the many short stories that Paulsen had written -- in fact, we all did, including their sisters -- and perhaps Collin would to.
“Want to read?” I offered him my iPhone, but he shook his head, unsure that this was what he wanted to do at all. I didn’t want to push it. Instead, I started off. My voice seemed to travel past the furniture, out the open windows and into the woods around the house. Soon, Collin drew in and relaxed against my shoulder, peering at the words. I knew he was following along.
“Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below ...”
It was as if a larger window had opened, and we’d climbed through it together, setting out on a shared adventure about a young boy working through the struggles his parents’ divorce has brought on. We read how Brian had kept a secret. We learned how he had to think fast. We were right there with him as he figured out a way to survive, not only the big D, but the vast woods in which he’d find himself because of an unlucky turn of events.
I read on as Collin leaned in. “Now Brian sat, looking out the window with the roar thundering through his ears, and tried to catalog what had led up to taking this flight. The thinking started, always it started with a single word. Divorce. It was an ugly word ...”
Collin stopped me midsentence. “Grammy, I think I’m going to like this book.”
He smiles, and it’s as if a light in his eyes has gone from dim to high. He’s full-on in because he seems to understand he’s not the only kid in the world feeling the way Brian feels.
A few days later, I share the same story with his cousins, Robert and Steven, during an overnight visit. Papa cozies up with us on the couch, too. The night before, Robert had fallen asleep reading with a flashlight. He’s working his way through the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, the same series Collin also enjoyed, although I haven’t seen him reading much this summer and I hope he’s not growing out of a lifestyle that will sustain him in so many ways as he comes of age and moves into adulthood.
Little Steven’s got my number. He pointedly asked recently, “Why is it always books, Grammy?,” letting out a big sigh. Even so, our youngest grandson stays on the couch, curls up right next to us, taking turns with his older brother swiping left to turn the page. It’s a win-win when he doesn’t scuttle off to play Legos until two chapters in.
We all love “Hatchet” and promise to read the rest on our own so we can talk about its relevant themes later.
A couple days later, I rally the grandboys together one sunny morning and get them to line up in the kitchen where the adults in their lives are sharing their morning coffee and catching up. They line up from youngest to eldest, with their eyes closed and hands extended, palms up.
My mistake is starting with Steven. He’s youngest, he should go first, but in all of my excitement, I forget his prickly attitude toward books these last few weeks. Still, I place the beautiful picture book by Karel Hayes into his expectant hands. He opens his eyes and suddenly spouts like a car out of gas, “A book!” He drops his arms as if he’s a dumping backhoe bucket, and “Winter Visitors” slips to the floor below and slides partway out of its shiny new jacket.
Robert and Collin are next in line, and without skipping a beat myself, I move on.
Later, I will replay that scene. Should I have taken the book back? Should I have demanded he issue an apology? Should we have replayed the scene so that he could role-play a better, more acceptable response? Probably a bit of all of the above, but a quick decision had me addressing Robert and Collin and focusing on the idea that it will always be about the beauty that books have to give to all of us.
Action, in this case, will speak volumes, especially when it comes to my resistant 5-year-old reader. We were in this together, for the long haul. I suspect he’ll quickly learn that about his Grammy T!
His mother had admonished his behavior; that was enough at the moment and the spotlight shifted.
I placed a copy of “Hatchet” in Robert’s and Collin’s hands and, to my relief and joy, Robert jumped with delight and Collin exclaimed it was a book he actually wanted to read! Neither could be happier. Steven watched on, and his eyes opened in a way that told me he was taking it all in. He looks up to his older brother and cousin, wanting to do most everything they do.
I knew he’d be OK, and I wasn’t about to make the boys do anything that felt forced, especially when it came to something as crucial as reading. The trick was to find what they liked to read and to guide them to seeking out appropriate authors.
So many of my college freshmen tell me that the experiences they associated around reading, writing and learning growing up were pivotal attitudes that stayed with them from the time they were introduced to books. These moments helped to direct the paths in which the feeding streams of their lives would flow as they developed.
I want my grandkids to have positive associations with reading. Much of that must come from building positive memories with the adults who are in charge; adults like parents, family members, teachers, librarians, baby sitters and child-care providers who are there to guide that flow of experience. I know how important reading has been in my children’s lives and how critical it will be in my grandchildren’s lives when it comes to learning, doing and communicating effectively.
“Looks like you’re going to have a book club,” said Collin’s mom cheerily, taking a sip of her coffee. She was right. Even some of the adults present were interested in reading “Hatchet,” a tale I consider to be a classic story of survival and coming of age.
We know that reading for pleasure informs our learning and helps kids in school in so many ways. I hope you can steal a few minutes with your kids to read the things you’re most interested in these next few days between stocking up on school supplies. Do it just for the sheer fun of it. I know I plan to! The boys are coming up this weekend and after we enjoy some fun in the sun, I plan to curl up with them while they open their newfound copies and we’ll step into another world, one in which we’ll see we’re not alone. Bliss I don’t want to miss.
Bonnie J. Toomey teaches at Plymouth State University, writes about writing, learning, and life in the 21st century. You can follow Parent Forward on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bonniejtoomey . Learn more at www.parentforward.blogspot.com or visit bonniejtoomey.com .