I'd sent Shaemus off to school that morning with our new copy of The Twits by Roald Dahl. A silly, grotesque story by Roald Dahl that we happen to love, but I didn't think Shaemus had read. It's Dahl, so the language is great, and Quentin Blake's illustrations cover every single page. There are a lot of words in that book, but I thought he could handle it.
"Did you read The Twits?" I asked excitedly as he hopped in the car after school was out.
His eyes got really big. He got the silly grin he gets when he knows I'm not going to like something.
"Nope," he said.
"Oh," I said, my heart deflating. "Well, what did you read then?"
His sneaky smile grew.
"Shaemus? What did you read—did you read any books today at school?"
"Nope," he said as he did his jungle-gym-somersaulting gymnastics back to his seat in the van. "It was my day for computers."
"Computers!" I raged as he knew I would. "What did you do on the computers?"
"Read tumble books," he said. "I read tons of nonfiction."
What followed was then a confusing explanation by three of my children all at once as to what tumble books were. Tumble books appear to be a program that involves a combination of reading and videos and games on certain topics. (Don't bother to correct me. I don't even care. I am determined to stubbornly disapprove of them.)
So Shaemus didn't crack a book yesterday in his first grade classroom. Not a book.
I must admit to shoving Fantastic Mr. Fox at him as soon as we got home. "Read this!" I ordered. "For one hour. You can stop reading when you go with Daddy to take Mary to art class."
Shaemus was in the middle of a pile of k'nex building supplies. He did not want to read. I ordered it maybe three more times with little hope because Shaemus is not always excited about being obedient. He is often more excited about being disobedient.
I left to take Calvin and Lucy to cello lessons. While driving, I called Sam, who was working upstairs. "Go sneak down and check on Shaemus," I whispered, because whispering was in order. "He was on the couch, reading when I left. I want him to keep reading until you take Mary." I finished with, "He didn't read a single book today in class!" to underscore how stressed I was.
Sam snuck downstairs. "He's on the couch," he whispered. "Reading Fantastic Mr. Fox."
"Okay, good," I said. At least he'd gotten ten minutes in. Maybe he'd read a few more.
"Shaemus is eating up that book," Sam told me on the way home from dropping off Mary forty minutes later. "He's reading it to Flannery too."
Shaemus finished the book.
He searched for it all this morning, and when he couldn't find it (because I had hidden it so he would bring something else), he asked if he could take James and the Giant Peach to school.
Now, I do like James and the Giant Peach, but in many ways I find it the least accessible of Dahl's middle grade books. And there are fewer pictures, and there's a lot of text. "How about George's Marvelous Medicine?" I implored. "Or Matilda. You love Matilda!"
He stubbornly shoved James and the Giant Peach in his backpack, and I honestly think he'll read it now because I didn't want him to.
Give Dahl to your reluctant readers. I'm telling you, it works.
And I also want to give a shout out for some nonfiction, which you will notice Shaemus read "tons" of on the computer.
Calvin loves to read about inventions, and the other day he was basically reciting word for word some chapters he'd read days earlier from this book:
With a Little Luck: Surprising Stories of Amazing Discoveries by Dennis Fradin
It's full of inventors including Isaac Newton who discovered things based on a combination of luck and work.
Calvin was particularly taken with the chapter on a female paleontologist who, "has probably discovered more dinosaur fossils than any other person in the world, though she never got rich. But she did get a dog who came with her on every dig!" (a direct quote from Calvin).
Other great biographies of some pretty amazing, adventurous people that we love:
Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa by Don Brown
This woman is seriously amazing. Read about her adventures with hippos and crocodiles as she dons enormous, buttoned-up-to-the-chin victorian gowns and be inspired.
Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown
Nobody is cooler than Albert Einstein, in my opinion. Did you know he was a violinist and good friends with Suzuki? And, holy cow, this book is bargain priced at Amazon for $2.80. Buy it. Now!
The Boy Who Invented TV by Kathleen Krull
So interesting how this happened! Your kids will never look at TV the same way (metaphorically speaking. Maybe you'll be lucky and they'll never look at it again because they'll be more interested in inventing something better...)
Manfish: A Story of Jacque Cousteau by Jennifer Berne
Your boys will love learning about this brave, heroic explorer. (And your girls will too—I hate being stereotypical)
And here's a book about that female paleontologist that so impressed Calvin:
Stone Girl, Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning by Laurence Anholt