Friday, January 23, 2015

Esme and "Real" Books


For a long time, Esme has not been content with picture books alone. Though she still brings many picture books home from the library (with titles such as Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious making the most repeat visits), she has long imagined herself a reader of chapter books. It started with the American Girl series, which Meg read backward and forward several times. Eventually, Esme started bringing home American Girl books too, despite the fact that she was scarcely four and couldn't read a word. Illiterate, she sat for hours with these paperbacks open on her lap, animatedly telling herself stories she had never heard. It was adorable and funny.

Last fall she latched onto my old paperback copy of Anne of Green Gables. She toted it with her to Louisville when we went down to say goodbye to Dad. She spent several hours of our car trip intently "reading" it aloud--and trust me, the ONLY thing she knew about this book at the time was what she could guess from the cover art. Her narrative was largely untrackable, but she sure was enjoying herself.

Lately, as Esme has progressed through kindergarten and begun to recognize words and sound them out, she's been attacking longer works in earnest. I brought Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm home from the library a couple of weeks ago, and Esme was enchanted. (By the cover? By the title? I really don't know.) She spent well over an hour one afternoon doggedly plowing through the first two sentences, one unfamiliar word at a time. This involved many trips from her reading spot into the kitchen to ask me for help. "Mommy, I know, 'The... old...'. What's this word?"

"Ssss-t-aaaa-ge. Stage."

"Stage! Ok, stage! Thank you, Mommy!" And back to her reading spot (usually the floor of the main floor bathroom, incidentally) she would go, to read from the beginning, adding her new word. Then, in a few moments, she'd be back.

"Mommy, I know, 'The... old...stage...'. What's this word?"

"It's 'coach'."

"OK, coach! 'The... old... stage... coach!' Thank you, Mama!"

She was totally delighted with this process, painstaking as it seemed, and she was over the moon when she encountered a word she could identify without help. As I mentioned, this went on for over an hour. You go, girl.

Then this week... a pay-off. We had finished reading Cheaper by the Dozen at lunchtime that day. (My sisters and I have quoted this book to each other since preadolescence, so it was fun to get to read it to my own kids.) Later that afternoon Esme took the book into the bathroom. She emerged glowing.

"Mommy, I was reading Cheaper By the Dozen, and I found out that it says, 'Dad... was... a... tall... man'!"

I took the book from her and opened it to Chapter 1. Sure enough, the book opens with the phrase, "Dad was a tall man"--glorious, short, simple words! Her first successful solo decoding of a whole phrase in a "real" book!

It was a real, live dream come true, achieved, as with most dreams, by hard work and perseverance.

Dream on, lovely girl!

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