I love this picture of Alice falling — surrendering to the fall. N drew it last year, or maybe the year before, and I just came upon it again. The knees of Alice’s bloomers are dobbed with white-out, as if the white paper wasn’t quite enough to convey them accurately. If you look closely, you’ll spot N’s embellishment to the story: Dinah the cat at the top of the rabbit hole, paws perched on the edge, looking into the abyss. Those rectangles behind Alice — drawn with such determination, tongue stuck out in concentration — are the cupboards and books she soars past, on her way to adventures in Wonderland.
Down, down, down. Would the fall never end?
As I write this, N has just headed off for her last day of school, a bunch of lavender for her teacher stuffed in her bag, along with a puppet from the delightful puppet store nearby. (How many neighbourhoods can boast of a puppet store?) So by the end of the day, Grade 2 en francais will be fini, and summer will have truly begun. In anticipation, the park up the street has been flooded with children each day after school for the last couple of weeks. Soon we’ll be whiling away the afternoons there, and spending the evenings reading.
We’re on the fourth Harry book now, each of us transfixed as ever. N’s dad and I take turns reading, and you can practically hear the crackle of N listening hard to every detail. Once in a while she stops us to ask questions:
What does marauder mean?
And she remembers the answers, storing them away for future reference. The other day I was changing her sheets while she was at school, and I lifted the pillow and found a little notepad, a pen and a pencil. Curious, I flipped through, and discovered page after page of “Pottery.” Each sheet was devoted to one of Harry, Ron and Hermione’s classes, and contained pearls of wisdom learned there. Under the heading Care of Magical Creatures: The hipagrif will attack when it is insaulted. Never insault a hipagrif. And under Defence Against the Dark Arts: The bogart is sommething that changes forme to sommething that your scard of. And under Potions: The polly juse posion is used to descigs yourself into sommeone that you want to be. And it fades in one hour. And under Herbology: Mandrac or mangergora is used to cure those who are petrifid and their cry is faytal to mostley everyone. Her spelling, to me, is a rich combination of French, English, Old English, and N English.
Looking more closely at these notes now, I see that N has written “Name: Hermione” at the top of each page, and awarded points below each answer. I’m betting she’s playing Hermione each night, by the glow of her night-light. I love the thought that she is creating this imaginary world as an extension of the books she reads. I wonder how long it will last?
Last night, I gave a reading at Bryan Prince Bookseller in Hamilton, and a woman approached me to say she followed this blog. Her son is four, and they are still enjoying the rich world of picture books, but into this she weaves her own versions of the books he has ahead of him: a mother’s tantalizing re-tellings of everything from Harry Potter to Sherlock Holmes. I admire people who can tell (not just read) stories. N’s dad does it well, but I fail miserably. It isn’t that I can’t think of the story quickly enough, because if you put a pen in my hand, something would scratch out right away. But it’s as if there’s a freeway from my brain down through my arm, and the only off-ramp is at my fingertips. So that even telling you all this now would be much harder for me than writing it down.
I guess this is common, that people are or are not good at what N used to call “stories from your mouth.” Another couple I spoke with last night — grandparents now, so with plenty of experience — said that she told stories and he read them. And either way, they were eagerly received. I confessed my creeping worry that all this reading to N has hindered her ability to read on her own. While I think it’s great to be read to, there’s something extra special about losing yourself, all alone, in a book. “Don’t worry,” they said with certainty. Which is always the answer I come to when I think about it myself.
And I can see how the books feed her on many levels — there’s the excitement of a good story, the exercise of the brain trying to puzzle out the twists and turns, the enormous leaps in vocabulary, and the unwieldy (yet also basic) questions of good and evil. What a shock, for instance, when Sirius Black — the murderous dark wizard hunting us through three quarters of Prisoner of Azkaban — turns out to be Harry’s godfather, dearest friend to his father James. Or when wise, kind Professor Lupin turns out to be a werewolf with a dangerous and violent hunger.
So — though school is out, the learning continues. Who knows what summer will bring? According to N’s pillow notes, I see there might be a way of finding out. Divination: tea leaves tell you what’s going to hapin in the futur. 20 points to Griffindor.