Thursday 19 May 2011

Of reading and writers- Steinbeck and Saki

It’s up to us, as parents, grandparents and teachers, to read to kids things they can’t or wouldn’t read by themselves, but are capable of understanding when they hear it read by a good reader.

My philosophy was strongly in favour of this when I was a teacher, seeing no reason why an inability to read should deprive kids in my lowest achieving groups of good stories. Thus I always read Of Mice and Men to them. The best, most perfect book ever written.

This Easter, with all my family staying, I read my eight year old grandson Saki's TheLumber Room, in which the protagonist Nicholas, who is himself not much more than Ted’s age, and of a similar bright, enquiring and somewhat Machiavellian mind, outwits a preposterous and ponderous Edwardian lady in whose house he is staying with his cousins.

I have always loved the word insouciant, and Nicholas is the epitome of insouciance- insisting that he was right all along, when he claimed there was a frog in his “wholesome bread and milk” Of course there was- he had put it there!

Ted and the other children listened with pleasure to this tale of a child triumphing over an adult, but I doubt if they would have been able to read the following passage without stumbling over the construction and even some of the vocabulary.

“You are not to go into the gooseberry garden”, said the aunt, changing the subject.
“Why not?” demanded Nicholas.
“Because you are in disgrace”, said the aunt loftily.
Nicholas did not admit the flawlessness of the reasoning; he felt perfectly capable of being in disgrace and in a gooseberry garden at the same moment.

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