Last night, very suddenly, my 5-year-old told me that he was worried about the 14-year- old boy who was missing in the subways. My heart stopped. I asked him how he had heard about that and he replied that he had seen a sign posted in the subway.
My son started reading by himself at age 3. He’ll read anything: storybooks, chapter books, his younger sister’s books, cookbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. We’re ecstatic that he is such an avid reader. We simultaneously celebrate it and find it challenging. He can read grocery lists to us when we go to the store, bedtime stories to his sister, and can amuse himself for an hour and a half during rest time. However, as exemplified by last night’s conversation, we long ago learned that just because he can read everything doesn’t mean he should read everything.
Even starting at 3, he would suddenly say strange quotes (“Blistering barnacles!” from The Adventures of Tintin) and ask questions about books that were not age-appropriate that we didn’t know were in his room. When he started asking about mummies, ghosts, and pirates (though he pronounced it pi-rayts), we discovered that he had happened upon the first four Magic Treehouse books. There are no parental control passwords or buttons on what he can read, only what is in his environment (and sometimes, not even then).
So, when he was out one day, we carefully picked through every book on his shelves to determine which ones were appropriate and which had content he was not ready for (i.e. Charlotte’s Web and Clemency Pogue). He also gets excited when The Economist arrives in the mail and is often curiously peering over our shoulders at texts we’re sending. We started considering which magazines or newspapers were OK to be lying around on the kitchen table (front pages about mass murders and terrorism we simply hid). We had stern conversations about not always sharing what we’re writing in a text message (“Sometimes it’s a grown-up conversation.”). My parents, who the kids sometimes stay with, also removed some work-related books, not suitable for young children, and put them in their offices.
My husband and I agreed that we would read the more advanced books either with him or ahead of him so we can help talk him through any new and confusing ideas. Foiled again; we couldn’t keep up. Our little bookworm went through all sixteen Magic Treehouse books that he had (he acquired more for Hanukkah) before we could even get to the seventh one. We finally “borrowed” (removed) the ones we hadn’t yet read. While he waited for us to catch up, he re-read the ones still in his room and then read just about everything else in his room. He continued repeating phrases that characters say to each other (“You’re nuts!” and “Forget it!” were favorites) and we continued to puzzle out which book they were from and in what context they were originally said to explain their meaning.
As his 5th birthday approached, we tried to get a different handle on things: we looked for books that were at his reading level but matched his maturity. We found the search very difficult even with some guidance from an outdated list for this particular purpose. We discounted A Bear Called Paddington which had some British language that would be a little confusing (even old-school language in the original Winnie-the-Pooh had already prompted some quizzical looks). Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and Ramona Quimby, Age 8, were out for now, since we were worried that both would suggest all kinds of crazy behavior that we didn’t want him to emulate.
We knew he really wanted the next four Magic Treehouse books. Somewhat disappointed with our search for additional books, we settled for just those (which he was ecstatic about) and added in a children’s book of mixed up folktale plays, since I am a playwright. He has taken to the plays very easily and is fascinated by them. However, we are still determined to find those other elusive books before Hanukkah. We know they must be out there and we barely have six weeks left to find them.
As for the information he picks up around the city, our only hope is that he will continue coming to talk to us when he reads something that upsets him or ask questions about things he doesn’t understand and that we will be able to frame it well enough for his age.