Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Undiscovered World

Over the holiday my grandson and I were playing with a balloon left over from a Christmas party. At a certain point in the game I repeated aloud some lines from one of his favourite books.

To tell the truth, it's a book I really hate reading for a number of reasons. It's written in such sparse language that it feels as though you're scanning a shopping list rather than taking part in a narrative; the illustrations are unsophisticated and remind me of the kind of graphics you encounter in a low-end computer game; and the plot ends up with the hero realising that it had all been a dream - the kind of ending I used to give the stories I wrote in primary school.

But my grandson loves it so I'm obliged to suspend my aesthetic judgement and read it to him over and over again. He's been known to demand this book twelve times in immediate succession, by the end of which I'm practically screaming through my forced jollity.

On this particular occasion as I kicked the balloon towards the front door I quoted gleefully from the text. 'He shoots,' I cried. 'He scores! He's won the game. He gets the trophy. He holds it high. He wakes up.'

The effect on my grandson was electric. He had been running around, laughing giddily but now he stopped in his tracks, staring at me intently with a look of wonder on his face.

It was clear to me that he was experiencing a minor shift in his world view brought on by the realisation that the words he was so familiar with could have an existence outside the covers of the book in which he normally encountered them. He was, in fact, discovering one of the key features of narrative - its extendibility into real life.

I felt immediately ashamed of my cynicism as I understood that what I had dismissed as a clumsy and amateurish piece of writing was for my grandson an essential tool in his struggle to make sense of the undiscovered world that lay all around him as far as his eyes could see.

5 comments:

Derek said...

It put me in mind of a time when my friend's stepson was heavily into his old Robin of Sherwood DVDS. We were walking through a field and I was whistling one of the tracks and he stopped in his tracks and turned to me, amazed.

Brian Keaney said...

I enjoyed that series.

Brian Keaney said...
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Sue Hyams said...

The wonder of words! It's easy to forget how children interpret the stories we read to them, but so lovely when we see their realization that stories can exist outside the safety of a book. Mind you, I had to read The Enormous Turnip over and over and over again to my daughter when she was a toddler, and I can't say that wonder was there for me at the time. In fact, the word "again" filled me with horror!

Brian Keaney said...

Nice to hear from you, Sue. Yes, I know what you mean about the tyranny of 'again'!