Sunday, July 17, 2011

Reading Rainbow

I’m on a frantic search through the boys’ bookshelves.

My husband is reading a Frog and Toad story to our youngest, our two year old.  They are laughing together through the story.  My husband calls to me, asking where the other three Frog and Toad books are.  He knows we have them - we used to read them to our oldest son when he was two.  

I’m looking everywhere but I can’t find them.

My eyes fill with tears as I realize that the books are probably packed away somewhere.  Buried in a box with all of the other stories that we tried to read to our middle son Howie.  Stories that he never showed any interest in.  

Quietly I tell my husband that I can’t find them right now.  I turn away before he sees the tears.

We’ve always read to the kids.  When my oldest was born, I took in all the advice from the parenting books and magazines to “read to your child”, even if it’s just the newspaper or your favorite magazine.  Start early, they would all say.  Hand your child the book and let them feel the pages.  The earlier you read to your child, the sooner they’ll start to read.  We read to Gerry all the time.  Our earliest pictures of him show him with a book or with someone reading him a book.  At two years old, he’d sit quietly as we’d read him stories from the giant “Thomas the Tank Engine” anthology given to him as a gift.  A book with many words and no pictures, but he’d sit for hours just listening to it all and asking for specific stories by name.  As he got older, my husband would read him chapters from the Magic Tree House series in bed at night and they would talk about it the next day.  Now at nine years old, he’s flying through mysteries and Encyclopedia Brown stories, and even asked to go to “read and swim” camp taught by his school’s reading teacher.  

My two year old is on the same path.  He’ll suck you in for book after book after book at night.  We’ve spent whole afternoons looking for “Goldbug” in the Richard Scarry books.  I’ll find him in his room “reading” books like The Hungry Caterpillar or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  Because of his speech delay, the words are slightly garbled, but he’s trying and the trained ear can understand.  He wants us to read to him and chooses his books at bedtime.  It’s his nighttime routine and he doesn’t let us forget it.

All three of my boys have bookcases in their rooms.  Every shelf is filled.  I never say no in the bookstore.

My oldest and youngest have books strewn all over their bedroom floors.

My middle son - his books have been in the same place for…years.

I can’t remember the last time he took a book off his shelf and brought it to me to read.  

We’ve tried.  He won’t sit for a story.  If I’m reading to his younger brother, he’ll come over to listen sometimes.  But he never initiates it.  

When he was younger, he’d sit for a story with my husband.  They had two books that they would read, Hondo and Fabien and Night Driving, both by the same author.  

But then things changed.  Was it that he couldn’t sit still for them anymore?  Or did his obsessions and sensory issues get in the way?  Is it the autism or did we get so busy with helping him with everything else that reading just fell by the wayside?

Snuggling in for a story is not part of his routine. He’s just not interested.

It’s later that night and I'm laying in bed with Howie as he falls asleep.  Through the wall, I can hear my husband as he’s still reading the one Frog and Toad story to our two year old. I'm listening to their gleeful voices reading and laughing together, and trying not to be sad for what didn't happen with Howie. I look over at Howie in his bed and he has a smile on his face.  For a brief moment, I think that he’s listening to the story as well, and laughing along.  I ask him what’s so funny.  He responds with “I was thinking about the funny voice from the show I watched today.”

My eyes fill with tears again.

“Comparison sucks. Completely.” I share this with some friends.

“Apples and oranges,” my friend writes back.

I know that.  I know that my kids are all different and comparing them is not fair - to them and to me.

Still, I can’t help but hope for that day when my son takes a book off the shelf and says “would you read this to me?”

It’s that hope that keeps me on the hunt for those missing Frog and Toad books.

Butterfly in the sky
I can go twice as high
Take a look
It's in a book
A Reading Rainbow
I can go anywhere
Friends to know
And ways to grow
A Reading Rainbow
I can be anything
Take a look
It's in a book
A Reading Rainbow
A Reading Rainbow
” - Reading Rainbow TV Show Theme Song


  1. Beautiful post! Have you tried audio books? - I think I've seen the Frog and Toad with the CD. We do that with our son. Play the CD then introduce the book. so that he could read along. But keep reading and keep hunting. One day, he'll surprise you! And don't beat yourself up about things that may have fallen by the wayside. You're doing a great job!
    And loved Reading Rainbow :)

  2. You know, I agree that books on paper may not be the way to reach him. Well, unless there are books about Hot Wheels! I do know he'll get there, and I do know that one day he'll thank you for keeping on trying, and one day we'll get to read about THAT!

  3. My oldest has Asperger's, and while his obsession has always been letters and words and books, he reads, well, differently, from my other kids. At 2 he'd sit in front of a bookshelf and go through every book, by himself, one at a time. When he was 5, he wouldn't sit still while I read - he'd walk in circles around me. At 10, he'd read a chapter in Percy Jackson, then one from the Wimpy Kid, and then something else. He'd have 3-4 books going at once, and another 15 with him in his backpack. Even today, I'm reading Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone to all 3 of my kids at bedtime - and he'll be reading a comic book or 3 as I do. Though, surprisingly, he seems to be catching every word.
    What always works? Comic books and manga. There's a comic book out there for every kid - seriously - whether he's into hot wheels or Thomas or video games (my 5yo loves the Sonic comics). And there are pokemon manga that are appropriate even for younger kids - though you do want to look through the books before you share to make sure, because the genre does skew older. This was my parents' trick to get my little brother to read, and one I've embraced. Don't know if it'll suit Howie, but as a lifelong bibliophile, I definitely feel your pain and hope you find something that does!

  4. I adore this post
    And I am sending u a hug
    R has finally this past year started letting m read to him

  5. My son, the one who is not on the spectrum, took a while before he started loving books. I too wondered if it was because I was too busy to help him as much as I helped his sister. It was when he realized he could read books about movies and TV shows he loves that he finally started reading more on his own. He still prefers video games to reading, but he does read and all of the books on his book shelve have been read. Hopefully, once Howie finds something he relates to, he will want to read more too.
    You are doing a great job and you have no reason to feel guilty.

  6. Elizabeth AucoinJuly 25, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    When my youngest daughter was a toddler, only picture books worked with her...books with very few words were best, and they were extremely special books (well written, clever, beautiful pictures). She challenged my selection process so utterly that by the time her older sisters were finishing grade school, a little girl who used to borrow books from us told one of my daughters, "your mother is the best book-picker." Harry Potter was the only series she liked after Grade 6. She got really upset when anyone read them out of sequence, and they had to be read in a single day (she has short term memory problems, but she said remembering wasn't the problem--it just wasn't right to break up the story), so when she fell asleep on page 535 at 2 a.m., she would start at page 1 the next day. Although she protested (when I stopped reading a novel after 5 or so chapters aloud to all my kids at bedtime), I had no idea about the set of rules she had developed and when it started. Eventually she tried non-fiction (which she had different rules for). At 21, she has fallen in love with books the way I always hoped she would and if you ask me how that happened, well--she has trouble with verbal communication so it's difficult for her to express what's different now. What I'm trying to say is: his feeling about books could change, you just never know. With my daughter, sensory stuff and obsessive compulsive stuff, mild depression and possible PDD-nos all came into play and it took a long time for her to realize what she was missing and to adapt her rules to allow her to enjoy literature. It feels like a miracle to me when she is excited about a book now (she is currently reading the help and I am having fun discussing it with her)! Here's hoping for a miracle for your son too!