Friday, November 14, 2008

A Little Dickens for My Little Dickens

My kids are both very good readers now. As an Unschooling mom who fully understood the theory that kids will learn what they need to know when they're ready to learn it, I still worried about the pace that my son was learning to read. He has a lively mind and was insulted by little books that he felt were babyish, when he was trying to read for himself. Learning to read was frustrating for him. He wanted to get to the story and not be stultified by the halting nature of his slow reading.

I have always read to my kids starting when they were little babies. We would all lie down on our backs and look up at the book I was holding above our faces, and I would read. My kids have always seen my husband reading and me reading and have always heard us talking about what we've read. They've even witnessed our dueling dictionary citations.

Sometimes my husband thinks he's right about a certain pronunciation or definition or origin of a word. I also think I'm right. So, we each grab a dictionary and see who is MORE right. Who has the FIRST definition? He and I are weird in so many ways...

What do you and your mate do for fun?

All this to say that my kids have been surrounded by words and readers all of their lives. It would be extraordinarily difficult to remain illiterate in such an environment. My kids now read themselves to bed every night. They read for an hour or so--because they want to. They love it!

When they were not readers yet, but word lovers, story lovers, I read to them every day and sometimes several times throughout the day. Their vocabulary was growing and their comprehension and their imaginations all while still not reading quite yet. But, they were developing an ear for language and an understanding for the flow of story and the arc of plot.

I read all sorts of things: wonderful picture books by Jan Brett and Maurice Sendak and others, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, poetry by A.A. Milne, Shel Silverstein, Winnie the Pooh, Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, The Trumpeter Swan, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I also read some things that would give them the story, but not all of the words yet of more meaty tomes.

One author who's particularly adept at presenting stories--especially with beautiful illustrations--is Marcia Williams. She shows us stories in a comic book format with some of the actual words of the original authors. You can get a sense of the rich language of Shakespeare or Dickens and also easily get the plot without getting muddled up in difficult language. It's not difficult language for me, but up until recently it would be for my kids.

I recently read them A Christmas Carol from Marcia Williams' book, Charles Dickens and Friends: Five Lively Retellings . And now they have a good sense of the story. They know what happens and then what happens next. Now, I'm going to read the full story from Dickens to them. They know what is happening and I think will be able to get into the rich language more easily.

We also have a couple of Shakespeare books and bible stories and Chaucer by Marcia Williams. Soon, we will move on to the real thing with those authors too.

I think this is a good approach for my kids. We all still have the shared pleasure of my reading to them, and we can move onto very rich literature that they may not be quite ready to read to themselves, but they will be able to appreciate the stories. The language will come later.


ebehm said...

My 7-year-old *loved* the Marcia Williams Dickens book, though I found some of the stories hard to follow even in that format. (Boy, Dickens had a lot of characters and plenty of plot going on!)

I'll be interested to hear how your kids like the full Dickens text. I have thought about reading one aloud, but I don't think he would sit for it yet. I enjoyed Tale of Two Cities, which I read as a teenager, and have always wanted to read Great Expectations, which had been recommended by my brother.

Laura said...

We have read the first chapter of A Christmas Carol and the kids did like it. I am glad that I read the Marcia Williams first--it was helpful in clearly reminding them of the story (which they did already know from plays and movies...)

I had first read Marcia Williams' retelling of Oliver Twist to them. Last year they saw Oliver and it was just too sad--Nancy getting killed. Somehow I had forgotten that part from when I had seen it as a child.

I was going to Read Oliver Twist to them and switched to A Christmas Carol.

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