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Jackson, Reading and Portuguese Man-Of-Wars

Right up there in my Baby Daydreams - you know, the ones you have when you're pregnant and you imagine a baby who latches immediately, who sleeps through the night at four weeks, who looks just like you only cuter, who grows up to be the homecoming queen AND the valedictorian AND the first doctor to cure cancer - was a baby who would LOVE to read. And I do mean LOVE. I imagined cozy afternoons snuggled up to my future bookworm, poring over picture books and, later on, sounding out words and discovering the magic of reading together. My kid was TOTALLY going to learn to read before kindergarten. WAY before kindergarten! After all, he would be just like me! Only better! And I LOVE reading! 

So of COURSE the stork delivered a baby who would rather chew on books than look at them. Even when he was WELL past the chewing stage. Try as I might, I could never get Jack interested in any kind of story. Beautiful picture books, funny board books, books that were just collages of construction equipment, books with pop ups and slide outs and fuzzy pages. NOTHING. He'd sit in your lap for the first page or two, then hop out and find something else to do, and it wasn't just me who couldn't get him interested in books - no one had success. 

This was VERY disappointing and I confess I was even a little WORRIED. How could I have possibly produced a child who was not interested in books? Who seemed to sit through his nightly bedtime story out of duty rather than enjoyment? How in the world was he going to learn to read before kindergarten if he didn't like books?! What was WRONG with this kid?! 

Well, the way I respond to pretty much everything that is wrong yet out of my control is to Ignore Ignore Ignore and after a while it just became part of Jack's genetic makeup. Jackson Cheung: Not Particularly Interested In Reading. Jackson Cheung: Mostly Likely Will Not Write His First Novel By Age Seventeen. Jackson Cheung: Bedtime Stories Are For Sissies. That sort of thing. I had another baby to indoctrinate by that time and I put it out of my head. It wasn't his thing. Fine. I didn't care!

Then a few months ago my husband came home with some book he'd found on the clearance shelf at the bookstore. A grown up book. An ICKY book. A book about (shudder) SEA CREATURES with a big ugly squid on the cover. Not even a CARTOON PRESCHOOL-FRIENDLY squid. I rolled my eyes. I blew it off. I said, "Good luck with THAT," and stomped off. 

The next thing I knew, Jack was, on his own, flipping through the pages of that decidedly kid-unfriendly book, correctly naming each and every fish, shark and jellyfish. With excitement. With interest. With OBSESSION. People, he memorized the names of every fish on every page. So you KNOW I immediately went out to the bookstore and came home with three more books about the ocean and sea life, only a little more kid appropriate. He devoured those as well (though he still prefers the first one, probably just to spite me.) These were his new bedtime stories, and it wasn't enough to just look at the pictures, he wanted us to read all the fine print as well. All the DETAILS about Portuguese man-of-wars and hammerhead sharks and mola molas (whatever THOSE are). 

A month or two later I noticed Jack asking questions about skin and muscles, so I went to the library and came home with books about the human body. Those were a hit as too. Not as exciting as the jellyfish (I think all the skin-less body pictures hit a little too close to home) but enough to have him randomly dispensing Human Body Facts throughout our days. For his birthday he received more books and sticker books about the ocean, a puzzle of the human body, and (most thrilling) Phillip found a National Geographic movie about the ocean on Netflix streaming. Jack will talk a blue streak through that movie, naming all the creatures and throwing out all his Ocean Factoids. 

Apparently my kid DOES like books. As long as they are NON-FICTION. 

I was talking to my dad about this, a retired elementary school teacher, and he told me that boys typically lag behind the girls in reading and in trying to figure out WHY, teachers discovered that boys seem to prefer non-fiction to fiction. Girls (and teachers) tend to prefer the fun storybooks and wonder why the boys aren't so interested, but bust out the science or history or biographies and some boys seem to shine. I know I know, huge generalizations, certainly not true for everyone, but when my dad mentioned the non-fiction thing it just totally fit our experience so far. 

Jack takes his ocean books to bed with him and would rather point out all the creatures and recite their names than read your average bedtime story. And when his preschool book order listed several ocean life books AND human anatomy books I went straight for those instead of the cute picture books and funny stories. It's not QUITE how I imagined reading with my kid, and I never thought these were the kinds of books to get him interested in reading, but there's no way I'm disappointed in his new fascinations. Honestly, I'd rather be learning factoids about deep sea dwellers than dutifully sounding out 'hat' and 'cat', even if I do have to hear about the awesome deadliness of Portuguese man-of-wars every night. 

Is your kid a reader? What's he into?

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