I’m a father. I’m also a grandfather. Books are important to me and my family. My daughter named her only daughter, Luna, after a character in the Harry Potter series. My daughter still loves to read, although these days she does more reading to her children than her own personal reading. For me, one of my great joys is to have my grandchildren over to my house where we (me, Luna and her brother, Matthew) all pile onto my big comfy chair where they hang all over me while I read them book after book. This makes them very happy. This makes me practically delirious with joy. It would be difficult to top this emotionally, but a recent experience may have eclipsed these reading sessions.
In the past I read to the kids because they couldn’t yet read by themselves. Luna is only 2.5 years old. My grandson, Matthew, who is in kindergarten, just celebrated a birthday. It’s been clear that he has been reading, to a degree, for a while — in two different ways. Now Matthew is your pretty normal young boy. He has way too much energy and can barely sit still. Ask his mother. But there are times between running around like a Tasmanian devil or throwing the ball around or the kids climbing all over me like I am their personal playground when they are calm. These blessed moments occur when Matthew will pick up a book and “read” it. In the past, he wasn’t really reading the words, but he was following the story by looking at the pictures. And we have read and re-read so many of the books here and at the home of his parents that he also has memorized the stories. So, you could see him, suddenly quiet as a church mouse, reading his books, turning the pages, stopping at certain places, laughing quietly at a funny incident in the book. The transformation has always been amazing to watch. One moment he is all boy with furious activity and then the next moment he is quiet and enthralled within the magic of his books.
But lately it’s also been clear that he’s been able to actually read some of the words. This is where I sometimes employ reverse psychology, telling him to stop reading those words so much. He smiles this gigantic smile at me and says he won’t stop reading those words!
Of course his parents threw him a party to celebrate his recent birthday. There was plenty of food and drink and lots of merry-makers to help celebrate Matthew’s birthday. There were more Transformers given as gifts than you can shake a stick at. Optimist Prime was well in attendance. So were the names of other Transformers that I cannot remember. There may even have been some Decepticons for all I know. The party was full of kids jumping on the trampoline, bean-bag tossing, eating all sorts of goodies, a LOT of running around, and, of course, Presents! I put money into Matthew’s education fund as his birthday’s main gift, but I also gave him — what else? — a book. His mother informed me that he was really interested in Beast Wars, a Transformers story with cool graphics. Now Matthew loves his Transformers. He loves to show you how they transform, what their names are, etc. But, when he opened my present, he shouted, “Beast Wars!” He immediately sat down in his chair. He ignored all of the multitude of other stimuli available to him. And he read the book from cover to cover. To him, at that moment, the world had stopped, and he was transported into a different world, a different reality. He stumbled on a few of the words, but he did his best to sound them out. But even those moments of interruption couldn’t stop him from his goal of reading the book. Suddenly I see that my precious grandson can actually read, that he enjoys reading, that it’s important to him. Me? I see a child for whom the world has opened. I see that the magic of reading has performed its continuing duty. I know that this tiny moment in time has transformed him from child to young boy, now armed with the tool that will educate him, entertain him, soothe him. His world of opportunity has opened, and there will be no stopping him. The magic of the written word has captured him. It all happened right in front of me. It’s magic like no other. It was his birthday, not mine, but his new-found ability to read was my priceless, magical present.