Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reading Breakthrough #1 (and Loving Spiderwick Chronicles)

My older son, with his new prescription reading glasses with prisms also, for his newly diagnosed eye tracking problem (specifically, convergence insufficiency), is on a reading jag which I consider to be Reading Breakthrough #1. (I’m calling this number one as a few minutes ago I discovered #2 which will be a future blog post.) I am hoping this change in reading habits and self-motivated reading is a result of his new glasses not just tied to the Spiderwick Chronicles book series by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi.

When we heard that a movie version of the book serial “Spiderwick Chronicles” was coming out both kids asked to see the movie. I denied this request stating they must read the books first because the book is always better than the movie (storyline wise). At that time older son protested immediately. This was before his eye tracking problem was diagnosed. He asked me to read aloud the books to him and I said no. I was trying to get him to read more. The book states it is for readers aged 7 and older. The publisher states on the Internet that the book is in the age 9-12 range. Sight unseen my older son was complaining about reading the book as then he wanted books with large font and lots of white space on the page; he assumed the books would be too hard to read (font size wise).

I tried borrowing the first book from two different libraries on five different visits (to try to save money but I did burn gasoline in those attempts mind you); unfortunately, they were not available. I also checked at the library for an audio book as older son asked for that and did not find it available at the library. If they did have it I would have borrowed it and given in and let him listen to it. He has always loved hearing me read aloud or listening to audio books and can listen and comprehend much harder books than he says he is comfortable reading (this was before his eye tracking problem was diagnosed).

The kids kept asking to see the movie, they are still asking today.

Last week we happened to be in Costco and I saw the Spiderwick books there. They were being sold as a set of the five Spiderwick Chronicle books for $29.99. They were also being sold individually for $6.89 (full retail is $10.99 and today’s Amazon price is $8.79 each if you want to compare prices) but I could not find the first book in stock. I was afraid to buy the set lest my kids not like book one and then I’d have wasted the money. However I realized once I had the book in hand these things:
1. The first four books are just 128 pages long (not long).

2. There is a good amount of white space on the page.

3. The font is not tiny.

4. They are illustrated with wonderful artwork (which is much appreciated by my kids and me).

5. The small size is perfect for the hands of a child.

6. These hard cover books are charming and enticing and beckon the reader.

So we left Costco that evening with the set of five books.

(I see Amazon is selling the five book set for just $31.49 today, not bad at all especially if you are not a Costco member or if your Costco has sold out of these sets already. Note that before the movie came out I don’t recall Costco selling them, so this is an example of movie marketing that inspires a wider audience of book marketing and increases readership.)

That first night my son stayed up late reading book one. In a nutshell he finished all five books in six days especially if you consider that within those six days he: 1) was with my family for a full day visiting them and did not read; 2) he was at an all day outdoor class where no reading was done; and 3) he spent more than 24 hours on a Boy Scout camping trip with no reading being done there either.

I was thrilled and surprised to see him doing things I had wished my kids would someday do. He was finding time in the day to read the book, quietly going off to his room or to a couch to read instead of spending all his time playing with LEGO. He did not beg to watch more TV or play more video games beyond our family limits (gasp). He was taking the book with him in the car and reading it in the car instead of just listening to music or reading comics. He stayed up late to read. He would not get out of bed in the morning because he was absorbed in reading. The books were being carried with him all around the house. He was riveted to the books and was really enjoying them. Oh and best of all that was all completely self-motivated. None of that was part of the reading that I mandate that my kids do for their homeschooling lessons.

I’m doing a happy dance!

I hope this is not just due to his loving the story of “The Spiderwick Chronicles”. I hope this is a sign of how much easier reading is for my son with his new prescription reading glasses and with the passive therapy for his eye tracking problem (prisms in the lenses).

Enjoyment of reading of fiction as a pleasure activity is a gateway, I believe, for reading for information and for self-education. Even some fiction books can help change who we are as people.

I plan to continue to put good books into his hands and I do hope this keeps up.

My seven year old has begun reading the books and is on book two right now. He was reading it to himself last night after he went to bed and did come to me saying he was scared by one part of the story.

My older son’s favorite genre is fantasy and his second favorite is realistic fiction (i.e. Andrew Clements).

I’ve not yet read The Spiderwick Chronicles so I can’t comment on the content or quality of the story.

We will watch the movie after the kids have finished reading all the books.

I also see that there is also a series: “Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles”. Book one has been published “The Nixie’s Song”.

Book two in this second series is slotted for publication in September 2008 and is titled “A Giant Problem”.

My older son is begging for the "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You" which I will indulge him with by order it from Amazon today.

Oh and yes soon we will see the movie!

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Kim said...

When I discovered these books with my eldest daughter, I raved about them to all of the moms I know. It seemed to be the perfect 'bridge' reading material. By bridge, I mean that your kid has mastered The Magic Treehouse books and is looking for something more. There are always Judy Moody (for girls) or the Secrets of Droon, and other such short books. The writing in those books is pretty bad, though, in my opinion. These books, with their thick, textured pages, beautifully detailed illustrations (done in pen, not colored, so they are not very distracting), the added story undercurrent, and what could be considered one novel broken into easily digestible sizes (for kids used to 100 or so page books) make a wonderful introduction to true, upper-level reading.

These were the very same books that also had my daughter reading for long stretches of her own time.

The books do address some very interesting topics. The family is going through a divorce and they've left their original home to move to the house of a country relative because one of the boys has been getting into trouble at school. A theme of the book is recovering trust after bad behavior. He is not believed for a long time because of his previous bad actions. Also, in facing this new challenge, he develops a load of self-esteem and finds he is more capable of dealing with the negative situation he is facing in his family. It also shows how a family can rebuild and redefine itself by facing challenges together. There is a point where a doppleganger (a creature that can turn into the image of a specific person) mimics the main character doing something bad--the main character chases him through the school and remembers that steel will make the doppleganger change to its original shape, so he takes out his penknife. Of course the school personnel see this and think he's threatening another student with the knife.

I will state for the record that I absolutely abhor the Magic Treehouse series for its simplistic writing and the liberties it takes (Morgan La Fey as a good person--bah) and was desperate to find something that was an appealing read. I am glad that we found these books.

christinemm said...

Kim, Thanks for your thoughts on the books and telling me all of that.

I am finding it impossible to keep up with pre-reading books that my children will read to themselves silently.

I have not had success with reading online reviews of books because everyone's perspectives are so different. Often people will just say they love a book or hate it but not say why.

And recently a friend told me opinions of a very popular book series for kids age 9-12 (especially enjoyed by boys) and said certain things about the books. Yet another friend then read the books to herself and didn't at all have the same impressions.

People are so different with their perceptions. I don't know who to believe.

I do like your description of the books. Funny that my kids never mentioned the divorce. We'll discuss more about the actual storyline today while on a long car drive as I am curious what their impression is.

In a different books which I felt was a very sad family situation and a bad situation for the boy (about age 10) which I thought was so depressing it should not be read by children at kids loved the book. Due to the fact that they have a happy family and two parents who are happy and in love with each other they didn't perceive the depressing divorce situation that the book character was in, for what it was. What I am trying to say was me with my adult views on children and unhappy parents who are separating and divorcing---I had different views than my children did.

Anyhow now I'm rambling.

I do plan to read these books when I'm done with two non-fiction books that I'm trying to finish up in this next week.