July, 2013, North Saanich:
My friends and I are sorting used books in a large gymnasium preparing for our book sale in aid of scholarship and bursaries for local students. Grandson, Tait, six years old, sits on the floor under a sorting table going through a pile of children’s books. He’s not finding anything interesting.
My retired kindergarten teacher friend approaches him to make a suggestion. Then she turns to me.
I explain that Tait, who is having a few days for his “summer holiday” with me, is struggling at school with reading. He’s a kind, considerate, classmate with many friends – teachers love him – but that doesn’t help with what he needs to learn.
She tells me, “Sometimes little boys find reading harder than girls do. They need to be allowed to try reading just anything, whether you approve or not, simply let them read.” And so we did; the strategy took hold.
Lego was important in Tait’s home. Big construction projects were always under way, pieces scattered wherever one stepped. Siblings and friends worked at building cooperatively and with the addition of cars and ramps new creations grew. Little sister coveted a pink Lego set in her room. Then, at a birthday party Tait was introduced to Minecraft.
With clever appeals to his parents they agreed to have a trial Minecraft game membership on two of the tablets in the house. Membership expanded until each child had the program and still I had no idea what they were talking about on the phone.
The day I arrived in their town I witnessed this new passion: the three siblings with a best friend from school sat around the room, each with a tablet on their knee. As I listened to the conversation and then peeked over a shoulder, I gleaned that together they were building a castle, with a separate room for each child according to personal specifications. There were stairs, hallways, a basement, built-in defence mechanisms, a moat, extended gardens, and so it went. I was astounded at how well they worked together, planning how common spaces would be used and what they would look like.
That’s when the light came on. If this was his current interest maybe there were instruction books. Yes there are. At the local bookstore I picked two hardcover Minecraft how-to books. There was a set available but I wasn’t sure this idea would work. It did; those treasured books are still on Tait’s bedroom shelf.
More thoughts bubbled up. On Amazon.ca I found fiction books based on the Minecraft game. Tim Winton has an enormous list to his name and I began to purchase and send them. These proved popular. Instead of the age appropriate magazine subscriptions I had sent the previous year I sent each child a loaded Chapters card for them to make their own choices.
This took me to a large Chapters store where I sought a clerk who knew kid’s books. Fortunately the young man understood what I needed and was very familiar with the choices. He showed me several different series about animals that turned out to be well-loved by the girls. The most dependable author he showed me was Mark Cheverton.
Each book in the Cheverton series’ is numbered 1, 2 and 3. One is even called The Gamekeeper Series, referring to the Minecraft game. Once more Amazon was my further supplier. Cheverton uses some frightening titles, for example, The Great Zombie Invasion: The Birth of Herobrine Book One. Next in the series is Attack of the Shadow-Crafters, then Herobrine’s War. If I had not had such good advice I would certainly not have chosen such titles for a boy of nine.
A long-time friend visited overnight and when her son came to pick her up to go home we were talking about Tait’s reading and my search for more authors that would interest him. “Try Rick Reardon’s Percy Jackson series,” he said. “They’re far out but the kids love them.” Given that this young man writes fantasy stories I believed him. He was right.
Percy Jackson is Tait’s current favourite character as he explores Greek mythology of other worlds, such as in The Mark of Athena, book 3 of The Heroes of Olympus series.
The best part of this simple story is that during the November Parent-teacher interviews Tait’s progress in Grade 5 reading was a highlight. He’s seeking books to take home from the school library now and has even loaned one of his precious books to a good friend. On a science research project about clouds he and his partner used words in an innovative and humorous way. They showed the clouds speaking with comic book style balloons to hold the words.
The most satisfying part for this grandmother was to see Tait devouring every new book he can get his hands on and when there is nothing new available he goes to his own bookshelf and chooses one to reread.
My recent pictures of Tait tell the story of his new love of reading. There he is after a quick dip, sitting on a catamaran surrounded by other family members who are still swimming and snorkeling. There is another of him reading with his sister at the airport while waiting to load.