Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Impact of Reading to a Child

Where I live is different from most apartment complexes, looking and feeling more like a neighborhood of Georgia mansions, as opposed to the typical big buildings all stacked up right on top of each other.  There are wide spaces between each one, and tons of trees!  

            One morning, I was out in front of my building, waiting for a friend to come get me.  I knew it was going to be for a few minutes, so I sat down on the porch and started to read.  This little girl came up to me and started talking to me, as if we had known each other forever - no introduction, no nothing.  "What's that?" she asked, indicating the Kindle in my hand.  "My Kindle."  "My Grandma has one of those, but I'm not allowed to touch it."  "Really?  Well, here - you can hold mine."  She took it and flipped it over a couple of times in her hands, then looked at the screen.  She asked me what I was reading, and I told her a horror novel.  "Oh brother.  You shouldn't read those, ya know.  They make you have bad dreams."  I shook my head, knowing.  "That's true.  Here's my secret - I NEVER read them when it's dark.  That way my brain has time to think about a lot of happy thoughts before I go to sleep, and it's so filled with happy thoughts, it doesn't think about the horror."  She sat there slightly shaking her head, as if it really made sense to her.  "I betcha you don't have any books on there for someone my size."  She looked really disappointed, like that was the story of her life, and it made me a little sad.  "Are you kidding me?  Not only do I have EVERY Harry Potter book ever written AND the whole series of Unfortunate Events Lemony Snicket wrote about it, BUT I have lots more, even some for kids smaller than you."  The look on her face is one that I will never forget, her excitement coming off in waves, and her happiness was contagious.  I went back to my menu and started going through some, showing her the covers.  She picked out a few and, even though she was learning to read in school, she asked me if I would read them to her.  How could I say no to reading to a kid?  It's one of my favorite things to do... and there's no sarcasm in that at all.

            A couple of days later, I was getting ready to go to the grocery store with the same friend, and again was reading outside while I waited for her to get here.  The same little girl came up, and sat down next to me.  "You still reading that scary story?"  "Yup."  "Ya know... if you're getting scared, you can take a break and read me something else.  I won't mind."  God, I love this kid.  We found another story that peeked her interest, this time a chapter book.  I told her that I wouldn't have time to finish it before my friend got here, and before I could say anything else, she said, "That's okay.  I plan on keeping you.  We can finish what we don't read the next time."  The feels...  We read a couple of chapters before I left, and to be honest, I really didn't want to go - she looked so sad.

            The next time we saw each other was a little over a week later.  (Since I don't drive up here, I spend a lot of time waiting for my friends haha.)  This time I was going out with the girls, so I was dressed up a little bit nicer than just jeans an a t-shirt.  "Are you going on a date?"  I couldn't help but laugh.  "Nah, just out to dinner with some friends of mine.  What are you up to?"  "Hiding from my cousin." She then looked down at her feet, and added, quieter than she usually talks to me, "Guys are dumb if they're not taking you out.  You're pretty... and you read good."  "Aww thanks.  You're pretty adorable yourself... and smart, too.  Why are you hiding from your cousin?"  "She's mean and treats me like I'm a baby."  "How old is she?"  "Ten.  I'm seven so it's not like she's THAT much older than me."  I laughed again, this time thinking about how my older cousins treated me... and how I treated my younger cousins.  She looked at me questioningly, so I said, "I have cousins, too.  Trust me, I know exactly how you feel."  This time I wasn't reading, and she asked me if I had my Kindle with me.  "Always.  Should we finish the story we started?"  "We can do that..." and after a long pause, "Do you have any books on there that will tell me how to deal with a mean cousin?"  I thought about it for a second, and then said, "I just might."  I thumbed through what I had and found a story about a brother and a sister fighting (that Berenstein Bears one) and figured that might do the trick.  When we were done, she got up fast and said she had an idea, and took off running, yelling goodbye to me as she went.

            There's been a lot of reading moments between me and this girl, but these are three that really stuck out to me.  Her name is Sarah and she's my little buddy.  It's a friendship that makes me really happy, but also one that makes me a little sad, considering she's only seven and I've rarely seen her with an adult.  I've asked her a couple of times where everyone is and she just tells me that they're "inside."  Apparently, she spends a lot of time being told to go outside and find something to do - she doesn't mind being outside, it's the fact that they won't let her bring any toys or books with her that she takes issue with ("How am I supposed to find something to do when they won't let me bring anything to do?").  Her mother is at work, her father isn't here... and it's her aunt that she spends time with during the day.  Things have gotten better with her and her cousin, so she's not having to deal so much with that (thanks Berenstein Bears for coming to the rescue ONCE again).  I've even had the pleasure of meeting the cousin (Chelsei), and I've seen the aunt outside a couple of times when she comes onto the porch of her building and calls the kids to come inside.  She sees Sarah sitting with me, but never once has introduced herself or even attempted to talk to me.  Sarah says she asked about me once, and she told her that I was her best friend, that I read to her, and that we never leave the porch.

The day before I left for Scares That Care, I saw Sarah when I came downstairs to check the mail.  She was in the yard outside of my building, and I went out to say hello.  She was going to the store with her aunt, so we didn't really have time to hang out, but she asked if I could come outside and find her the next day.  I explained to her that I was going to a horror convention, leaving that next morning, so I'd have to wait until the next week when I came home.  "Wait.  A horror convention?  What's a convention?"  I explained to her that it was a place for people who really liked horror to get together and make new friends, meet some really neat authors, take some pictures with some people on TV, and buy books.  "So there are going to be some scary people there?"  "Well, yeah, but there's going to be a lot of not scary people there, too.  My best friend writes horror books, and he's not scary at all."  She stood there for a minute looking at me, and you could tell that she had a lot of questions.  "So you're not scared to go?"  "Oh, I'm scared alright - petrified - but not because of horror people.  There are going to be people there that I know, but have never met in real life, and I'm worried that they won't like me."  She put her hand on my arm, like an adult would do to another adult, and said, "You're being silly.  How could they not like you?"  Have I mentioned that I love this kid?  We talked a little bit about it being scary to meet new people and be in new situations, and she said that's how she felt when she went to a new school.  Her aunt called her from the front porch, and she turned to leave, but came back for one more question: "Do they make horror books for people my size?"  Her aunt called her again, and she took off before I could even answer her.

They actually do, which should be no surprise to anyone reading my blog.  My sister was enamored with the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine when she was younger, and my nieces loved Neil Gaiman's Coraline.  I had planned to do more research into this, the need to find something she would love very important to me.

Because of a conversation a good friend of mine encouraged me to have with a publisher that Saturday, and my need to talk to someone (anyone!) about how amazing this young girl is... I now have a copy of a horror book made for people her size.  And it is gorgeous.  And it's been sitting there, waiting for me to be able to read it.

This afternoon, a friend of mine came over to borrow a book, and the first thing he said when I opened the door was, "There's a little girl down there that wants to talk to you."  Okay.  I walked down the stairs, with the book in my hand, and she said, "Did you find out an answer to my question?"  I handed it to her, and we sat down on the steps together.  Five chapters in and she's hooked.  She even made me stop reading a couple of times so that she could read to me (practice makes perfect!).  I'm sure we would have finished that book today... if her aunt hadn't called her and told her it was time to go.  Before she ran off, she gave me a big hug, and with tears rolling down her face, she said, "I love you, Meghan.  Thank you!  Don't read any more until I come back!"

Christina Hargis Smith and Francis Leggett... I don't know if you'll ever read this, but know, without a doubt, that the two of you, made one little girl VERY happy... and this blogger can't thank you enough.


 




2 comments:

Jeffrey Kosh said...

As the graphic designer of Francis Leggett's book, I'm glad it caught the interest of the little tyke. You can assure her that there'll be more to follow from OMP.
My Best

Meghan H said...

So YOU're the one that makes it look that good. Nice!! Thanks for commenting.