My older son manages to surprise me on a rather regular basis. I'm almost certain that I forget he's actually younger than he gives the impression. He's only five and a half at the moment. But he's tall for his age, and linguistically, he's far more adept than your average five year old. Today he just finished his last day of Pre-Kindergarten. Next year he'll be in school "full time".
So to back things up, about three years ago, a marvelous writer, Catherynne Valente (yuki_onna
) started up a project to write a YA book. Out of necessity and urgency, it was a crowdsource funded book. At the time, I recall I donated a bit, and I think I read the at most first two chapters as she posted them up on the web one new chapter every week. My wife was in her ninth month carrying our younger son at the time, who was born, maybe two weeks after the postings started, and then I promptly forgot all about the novel. That's not to say that the novel was forgettable, just, well, two kids somehow end up feeling like twenty in short order, and you think you've got everything down after the first one, and you totally find out that you do not. So, out of touch, out of sight, and off it goes.
Fast forward a couple of years, she makes this wonderful post
giving us readers a promise that she won't talk down to our kids with her writing. Now, this is not too long after I've "met" her at Boskone, and got to hear her read a section of her fantastic story Silently and Very Fast.
I bought a copy of that before I left the reading (thank you Kindle) and I knew I had to get my wife, Celine, to read it. (Which I did, and she loved it.) So, I decide that, you know what? No time like the present to read her YA book to my older son. Why not see if I can't manage to rope in another fan.
Now, caveats. I'd only glimpsed the opening of the story. I don't really know what's an "appropriate" age to read the novel. But one thing I do with my older son is nudge him a little further along the path whenever I can. Because, all fatherly love put aside, he's a pretty smart kid. He was reading on his own by three. We've read together Odd and the Frost Giant
, and The Hobbit,
and all of The Spiderwick Chronicles
just as an example. Most nights, he reads his own stories to himself, books that are much more typical for a five year old to have. But when he's good, and we have time, he gets a little extra reading time with Dad (or Mom). And when I do that, I go for the bigger books, so I can judge if we're okay, or if we're beyond him or not. And if he's sitting there, asking questions and mostly paying attention, we're fine. But if he's all over, then, okay, I've probably shot past him.
So, we're reading along tonight finishing up chapter four, and it occurs to me that I never actually told my son the title of the novel we're reading. He just called it September's story, and well, that's a whole lot shorter than the actual title. And, as someone who grew up with a name shorted to two letters, there's one thing I tend to do more than anything else is shorten names. But we're at the point where the main character, September is talking to a new character, the Wyverary, (read the story, that will make more sense) and mys on perks up asking what's the name of the story we're reading. Now it's written on the top every screen(page? What do you call it in an ebook?) but it's much fainter, almost grey text instead of the nice crisp black of the main text. So I pause and read it to him: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
That's a mouthful. I said to him, you know almost all the words, but this one big one here, might be a bit hard. And I pointed to Circumnavigated. I repeat it, and ask him what do you think it means. Without hesitation, he responds: to go around in a big circle until you get back home.*
Now, I read him chapter one and two, but I switched off with my wife, so she could read him chapter three. So I think to myself, ah. Celine must have gone over with him what circumnavigated means. So after we finish chapter four, and I kiss him good night, I go and check with my wife. Nope. Never came up. Now, he's just finished pre-K. It's not impossible that somehow the word circumnavigate came up during school. I'm sort of doubtful on that one however. I remember learning the word only in context with the great explorers, Magellan and Drake, and if I recall, that was in like fourth or fifth grade? So here's my five and half year old, and figured it out through....logic? Context? I can't even imagine. Yeah, I'm pretty impressed.
So to bring this back around to yuki_onna.
Thank you for not dumbing things down. Because I have a kid who needs the challenge. And even if he won't get everything on the first read through of the book, that's okay. I mean, isn't one of the joys of reading, re-reading
a book again when you're just a bit older and seeing deeper into it? And to the rest of you out there, if you write for kids at all, I challenge you to follow suit. Don't hold yourself back thinking to make it easy on the kids. Our kids deserve our best. Every time I begin to wonder if I'm pushing him too far, he shows me he can handle it.
Oh, and I think I succeeded, and now have three fans in the house. :)*I don't think I got his wording 100% right, because I didn't jot it down word for word, and I'm writing it from memory almost two hours later. But that's as close as I'll be able to scribe it now.