by William Joyce
Many once upon a times ago I used to manage not one, not two, but THREE parent educations programs for those with children 0-5. I had a staff of around ten that was supposed to serve the entire Inyo County, including far flung Death Valley, a four hour drive south. I was 28-years-old and had NO management experience - that is what you get for $12 an hour, no experience. When all is said and done I can say that I gave the job my all and tried my best; I may have even done a better job than others in the same situation would have. But I was inexperienced in management doing a job that normally would be done by two (in some cases even three) people, and I wasn't yet a parent. When I found myself crying every weekend I quit, I lasted a little less than two years. But while I was there I went to a great many trainings, and they all said the same thing READ TO YOUR CHILD.
At the time I fully embraced group think and never even thought to question the great educational dogma. But now that I have Oscar, and I read to him, and read to him, and read to him, sometimes I think back to all those trainings and wonder if there wasn't something I may have missed. Of course my reading to Oscar will help him become a future reader, but what other than job security for me will that accomplish. I know in truth, that it is all about school success, but after school, how important is reading, really, in the adult world?
A woman came into the bookstore the other month to buy something for her son, she couldn't remember what she wanted to buy so she called her husband on the phone, "I'm in the bookstore" she said over the phone. I could hear his reply, "Why, you don't read?". "Yes", she laughed, "I'm picking up something for Robbie....". I looked at this woman, was her life really so much less than mine because she didn't read. She looked happy, she had a family, she had money, at least she looked like she had more money than me. So she didn't read, she probably never read for pleasure, but was she less happy because of that?
Is it better for adults to read a James Patterson mystery novel or watch a movie? Is reading Twilight superior to seeing the film? Is it better to read a story to my son or have him watch Dora the Explorer? Dora teaches my son another language, she teaches him to remember instructions and complete them. Is she really so inferior to Goodnight Moon? I have never stopped reading, and reading, and reading to Oscar, but for the last six months my mind has sorta wondered - WHY?
And then two days ago, I read Oscar William Joyce's new picture book The Man in the Moon and suddenly everything clicked. The Man in the Moon is too old for Oscar, it has a rather complicated plot and takes place in outer space, a concept beyond many a two-year-olds' capabilities. But the bookstore got an advance copy of the book, and I took it home. Oscar saw the picture on the cover and I shrugged and started reading it to him. It took us half an hour to read the book through the first time, and most of the story went in one Oscar ear and out the other. But the kid LOVED it.
Oscar wouldn't let me just read the story and turn pages, instead he would stare at the pictures. At least 15 minutes was spent on one spread, a visually simple spread all in blues. The Man in the Moon (MiM) was a baby, his parents had just been killed in a battle, and he was alone on the moon looking up at a new constellation of stars and seeing his parents in the constellation. That's pretty heavy for a 2-year-old, and in all fairness the book is not written for two-year-olds. Oscar had me read the page over and over and over again. He was pouting, but he never cried, and I realized this was his first brush with the concept of death. He may have been introduced to the idea before, but now he was starting to understand it. And we talked about it, about how the baby felt, about where the parents were...I was scared I was going to scar my child with this book, but at the same time I was grateful to be having his conversation now, and NOT when something horrible actually happened. Because something horrible will happen, Oscar has four grandparents, is he going to have four grandparents when he's 20? Death is an important part of life, and I prefer to slowly introduce my son to the idea of it before it touches him.
While reading this book with my son, while introducing him to these big concepts to him it hit me - the book is letting us do this. The book is helping me raise my child. A T.V. show could never do this, not so effectively, not so delicately. My son is smarter and wiser than he was two days ago and I have a book to thank for that. Rarely when watching T.V. do people stop to THINK about what they are seeing, but it is hard to be blind to that in a book, because while reading the words you already are in your mind, it's harder to ignore your own questions.
Most of the book was over Oscar's head the first time we read it, but now he understand almost everything. He understand outer space, he understands stars, spaceships, oaths... Much of what I thought was beyond his capabilities is not. It's been a big learning experience for Mommy.