In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Resistance and repetition

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I wrote a few months back about Isabel's disinterest in starting to learn to read on her own, as Eleanor becomes an increasingly fluent reader.  Another facet of this resistance is that Isabel refuses to let me read her chapter books: not the early, short-chapter ones that Eleanor began with, like Riverside Kids and Jamie and Angus; not the longer chapter books full of animals that I know she'd love, like Doctor Dolittle or Mr. Popper's Penguins.

I don't mean that I start these books, and they don't hold her attention -- no, Isabel will not allow me to pick them up and try reading them to her in the first place. Never mind that some of her favorite picture books have text as dense as, or denser than, a chapter book might (St. George and the Dragon and The Kitchen Knight are regular fare these days); if it's not a picture book, she's not interested.  I know this is normal: she'll be 4 later this month, and I recognize that being able to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to Eleanor for the first time when she was 3 1/2 was anomalous.  Still, Isabel has a good attention span, and I'd love to be able to enter a larger narrative world with her, as I do so often with Eleanor.

Isabel is a visual kid.  She watches movies with unblinking intensity -- sometimes her eyes actually water -- and recalls images vividly.  Any night that Jeff is home for bedtime, her reading of choice is our giant book of Little Nemo comic strips, which they have now read cover to cover, and to which she returns with specific requests for certain pages.  (The size of the book makes it impossible for me to handle when I'm home alone with three kids -- imagine trying to hold it over the head of a nursing baby!)

So our reading time, in the morning and at night, toggles back and forth between Eleanor's current chapter book and Isabel's desire to read the same small group of picture books repeatedly for days in a row.  It's not uncommon for them to argue over who gets read to first, or to pout when it's the other one's turn.  Isabel tunes out Eleanor's books (or listens to them with half an ear from the other side of the couch); Eleanor is bored by Isabel's desire for repetition.  I've been looking for a book that would keep both of them interested.

Enter Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.  Reminded and inspired by your recent post about the miracle worker who cures children of all kinds of bad behavior, I requested the first book from the library, and it worked.  Although there are only two pictures per chapter, Isabel was captivated by the stories, and Eleanor found them hysterical.  "The Answer-Backer Cure" proved to be a tremendous favorite, as both girls liked the parrot who repeats rude phrases, loudly out-doing the girl whose rudeness needs to be cured.

So has Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle cured my children of their arguments at reading time?  Not exactly.  We read the first chapter, "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Herself," one evening last week, and everyone went to bed happy.  The next morning, Isabel wanted to hear the chapter again.  Eleanor, of course, wanted to read the next chapter.  And that's how it went for a few days: when it was Eleanor's turn to choose, we'd get one chapter further into the book.  When it was Isabel's turn, we would reread a chapter. By the end of the week, we got to know the book quite well.

Any suggestions for what we might try next?

Love, Annie

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