Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How To Improve an Adolescent's Literacy


Our church has a focused, 30-minute worship service at 5:30 PM on Wednesday evenings, just before our 6 o'clock community meal and just before confirmation groups and musical groups begin their work at 6:30. Tonight as I exit the sanctuary to head toward the community meal (we call it "Wednesday Night Supper"), my thirteen-year-old, eighth grade son, Tony, grabs me by the arm.

His blue eyes sparkling, his freckled face flush with enthusiasm and his scratchy pubescent voice join together as he says, "Hey, dad!"

"Um, yes, Tony," I say a bit distracted by the busyness of the evening, knowing intuitively that any conversation with Tony will be circuitous and at least three times as long as it needs to be.

"Hey, Dad, you have to read this."

I look down as he proffers me a hardback book from his school media center. I am surprised. It is a book four times as long as he typically reads, it is clearly a work of fiction and it is in the detective/mystery genre. The author is James Patterson, with whom I am vaguely familar. I enjoy a good mystery and have listened to (and read in the old-fashioned way) many a good read on my iPhone, including Jonathan Kellerman and Faye Kellerman, among my favorites.

Before I can say anything further he has thrust the book into my hands, a well-creased chapter bookmarked with the generic kelly green bookmark provided all eighth graders by their English teacher so they can record the dates of their reading and how many pages they have finished.

His chubby finger points excitedly to the text where he wants me to begin my perusal.

Jamilla greeted me at the door, lips first, a delicious kiss that warmed me from head to toe. I didn't get to see much of her wraparound baby-blue blouse and black pencil skirt until we pulled apart. ... She sure didn't look like a homicide cop today.


I look up from the text and his eyes meet mine. I say, "Hmmm."

Tony, with urgency in his voice, says, "Keep reading. Keep reading."

And so I do, dutiful father that I am, smiling inwardly at my young adolescent's son first literary experience with a genre designed to smolder (albeit slightly) one's sensuality. I read the three ensuing, lurid pages as he waits for my response. Fortunately I am an open-minded sort of person who has learned over the years to sequester what might be my anxiety, having learned that an anxious parent only creates a more focused (usually in the negative sense) child. I have also, over the years, read material much more revealing than this relatively tame passage, so I am not overly concerned.

It is, I suppose, ironic that I as a spiritual leader of a congregation find myself steps outside of the sanctuary in the lobby area reading fiction that has scintillated my son's prurient interest. I am not a legalistic Christian, and I choose not to overreact. Instead I say, "Wow. What do you think of that?"

"I don't know," he says, his mirth unrestrained.

"Kind of exciting?" I query.

He shrugs his shoulders.

"Let's see. You're on page number 28. I wonder what it's going to be like by the time you read page 80?"

Quick contemplation on his part, a pensive look on his face and his quivering response, "I don't know."

"Guess you'll have to find out, huh? You better keep reading, Tony!"

And with that he tugs the book from my hands, trots off to our Wednesday Night Supper and gleefully anticipates an improved literacy.

Or something like that.

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

Hey, whatever gets them interested in reading!

I remember spending hours hunched over my mother's copy of The Thorn Birds when I was about eight or nine. Talk about exciting ...