My eldest daughter can read now.
It is a new thing, but I can’t say exactly when it happened. Way back in January, a month before she turned four, Abby began spelling short words using the moveable alphabet in her classroom. Then the booklets started coming home – little stapled pages of words she had spelled or read at school. A couple of times, her teacher let her bring home a book from school to read to us. It was very slow going; all the words were three or four letters or less. She didn’t really pay attention to punctuation or sentences at all. She would ask about words in the Ramona books, and got to where she could recognize quite a few of them. She memorized how to write a few favorite words and phrases: Abby, Grace, Mama, Daddy, I love you, hi, see you soon, Happy birthday, Merry Christmas, to, from, love Abby! – that sort of thing. But while she’s got crazy focus, she never seemed to want to sit down and really work on reading one of her own books, even a short book.
I admit that I was feeling a bit impatient about the reading thing a month or so ago. My husband and I knew that Abby was so close to being able to just pick up a book for the first time and read it straight through. But in the end,we knew it was something she would just have to decide to do. When she really wanted to. When she was ready.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought her one of those Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems – it was Listen to My Trumpet! Abby had never seen it before (unlike all of her other books, which she pretty much has memorized), and to our surprise she was able to read much of the book without our help. It was still difficult to figure out exactly where the sentences began and ended, and she definitely needed help on some of the more difficult words, but unlike previous book-reading efforts, she didn’t get bored or frustrated or distracted. She just kept going. The book had a lot of silly made-up words – trumpet sounds – and she had fun sounding those out.
A few days ago, she asked my husband to write her a story so she could illustrate it. He wrote a little four-panel story – with space below for pictures – about Abby, her sister, and our cat Eliza. Abby read the whole thing, and only needed help with one word. She drew pictures, complete with a word bubble coming out of her mouth that read HA HA HA. Every day since, they’ve made a new story together. Yesterday she read another new-ish book that she has not memorized, an “I Can Read” easy-reading book called Biscuit’s Day at the Farm.
What surprised me about the Biscuit book is how much expression she put into some of the phrases. It cracked me up. Sometimes she gets the punctuation/end of a sentence and sometimes she doesn’t, but she has really impressed me with her speed – there’s some hesitation, and she’s not fast, but she doesn’t read the way I would have expected, with lots of pauses to slowly sound out words. There’s a neat kind of rhythm to the way she reads. I’m also impressed with how well she remembers previous words she’s learned, even tougher ones like “excited” – once she sees a word, she seems to store it in her lockbox of a brain, and she doesn’t need help with it again.
Tonight she also read an email her grandmother sent, thanking her for some drawings we mailed earlier this week. Abby just sat and read the note straight through, with almost no stumbling. She even got the word “Thanksgiving” – I think because she’s also learning how to figure out words in the context of what she’s reading. She couldn’t sit down and spell “Thanksgiving” on her own at this point, but in the context of an email that mentions turkey and our upcoming holiday travel plans, she knew, when she saw that big long word, what it was probably about. Just like she knew that the word after “fairy” was probably “costumes,” even though it’s another longish word that she has never really seen before.
I just think that’s so cool.
We are trying not to make A Big Huge Deal about it with her – even though she knows we are pleased and proud – because we would like her to be driven by her own enjoyment of reading, and she really does seem to be right now. She’s not really over the moon about it, because it’s been coming on so gradually for her; it’s just one more way that she is growing, and she can’t keep track of that either. She still doesn’t realize how much this opens up for her. I watch her read and I picture her world getting bigger and bigger; I imagine her traveling everywhere a book can take her; I recognize that this is the beginning of a thousand different adventures – but I know that isn’t how she sees it, at least not yet. She is happy enough to be able to read about a puppy visiting a farm.
I am just so thrilled for and proud of her. Learning to read is one of those near-universal experiences; and yet the things we choose to read, the stories we fall in love with, the books and plays and poems that really touch us and become a part of us, are particular to us as individuals – no two readers are perfectly alike. And now we have a brand-new reader in our house. This is one of those moments you look forward to, as a parent, with so much anticipation and excitement – and it does not disappoint. Not that I ever thought it would.