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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Genre

I've been mothering avid readers for approximately 8 years now, and I think I'll never come to the end of my fascination with children and their obsessive, head-first dives into various genres of literature.

It's a beautiful thing to watch develop: child tentatively pulls a book from the crowded library shelves. Child examines cover, weighs the pros and cons of the artwork and font selections. Child slowly flips to the inside cover and digests the summary blurb. Child's eyes brighten. Child brings book to Mother for approval. Mother repeats said process. Mother nods and puts book into bin. Books are checked out. Child can't be satisfactorily seated in the truck without first digging through the bin and reclaiming the book. Child buried face in book before Mother turns key in engine.

And the love affair begins.

I have alongside my keyboard right now no fewer than six books that my children have requested I research. They've read these books, declared them masterpieces, and are clamoring for more. Something similar. Could this be a series, perhaps? Anything by the same author? A note from Jo, stickied to the cover of a book called "The Smartest Animals on the Planet," begs: "Anything like this, Momma. I LOVED this book!!!" The word love is underlined in purple glitter ink not once, but twice. Yeah, I think she liked it.

Jo's very first literary love was a series called Pony Pals, a sweet, girl-meets-pony set-up made all the better by the presence of a group of dear friends who, you know ... are pony pals. My cousin, Kindred Blessings, happened upon the books sometime around Jo's fourth birthday, and I tell you, I don't think the child read anything else for a year.

Right now, I'm watching Logan experiment with the same kind of passion. At the end of his bed is a small bin of "rest time" books and toys. Currently, it's brimming over with slim Magic Treehouse readers.
Today, it's a trip to visit polar bears. Yesterday, it was the Civil War. Who knows that tomorrow will bring? Unlike Jo, I am allowing Logan to wallow in this starter series without fear that it will "twaddle" away his appetite for the real meat of fine writing. Within three years of her obsessive relationship with the Pony Pals, Jo was reading Little Women--and not in abridged form, either. Sounds like she turned out just fine, Miss Mason.

Atticus' most enduring obsession thus far has been with his beloved Redwall series. He never tires of re-reading the massive tomes, of dragging them to the car for long trips, of toting them through doctor appointments. The battles, the heroes, the foes ... they are all among his close confidants. A life without Redwall would be, for Atticus, unacceptable. Yes, he reads other things. A novel a day, usually. Unless he is exceptionally busy, at which point he will beg to stay up later so that he can dig into his fantasy life for just a little while longer. His personal favorite genre is fantasy and science fiction--both of which I know next to nothing about. It's a stretching thing for me, too, this digging and dwelling.

For some reason, my children simply can not encounter a book that they love without longing to return to it. They will either read it through once, elicit a sigh of satisfaction and immediately turn back to the first page, or they will scour the library shelves in the hopes of finding a sequel, a prequel, or something along the same lines as the gem they just polished off. The biggest disappointment, they have told me on multiple occasions, is finding out that an author has simply told one story and stopped. Surely there's more! they will beg. Please, Momma, look!

And so I look. I spend a good bit of each and every afternoon tracking down titles that will feed the reading beast. I listen closely to my children's conversation, picking up hints of interests. And, of course, I examine the stack that grows by my computer and follow the leads where they go.

Topic: dragons--must fit our personal values. Check.
Topic: submarines--preferably fiction. Check.
Topic: country veterinarian--nonfiction. Check.
Topic: adventure story--must have boy as main character. Check.

Someone told me recently that at some point, books are no better than television in their ability to enslave the mind. On some level, this is most likely true. The biggest part of me, though, resists such dismissive statements regarding the value of a child whose main pastime is the joyful, eager, and passionate consumption of good books. My children spend ample time playing, imagining, interacting and exploring the world around them. But, like their parents, they are equally happy with a fantastic book, a cozy spot, and a cup of something warm. That, my friends, is a genre I understand. Understand, yes ... and even endorse.

2 comments:

Cory & Kris Thede said...

Just this week enjoying watching our just 12 year old DS pick up Lord of the Rings and ask if he could read it on his own. The same kid who worked so hard to learn to read. The one we bought a stack of Calvin and Hobbes because the only books he was interested in were comics. The same kid who was diagnosed last year with dyslexia. Yeah for books! Fauche-SL

Fatcat said...

Have you seen this site?

http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com/search

I do the same thing, reading reviews, looking for similar books. My kids love Warriors, Deltora Quest, Ranger's Apprentice, Peter and the Starcatchers and Harry Potter among others.