Of the blog topics that presented themselves begging to be written in place of my novel for the last few days, the most compelling by far came from Caroline. On a whim Monday night, I had told her to pick me a book from the ‘grown-up’ shelf. Now, that really means the anything-more-complex-than-picture-books shelf. She’s the one who calls it the grown-up shelf, because the books have lots of chapters and few or no pictures.
I was expecting her to choose a Magic Tree House or Puppy Place volume, since she loves both series and knows the covers (and plots) by heart. (She has also read these to herself several times over and never seems to tire of them.) Instead, she brought me Treasure Island. “I’m ready now,” she said. I’m ready now. Woah. It might have turned into a moment of profound connection, with our eyes meeting as I acknowledged this step towards adulthood. It could have become a moment of metaphor, where ‘I’m ready now” became Caroline’s entire life-journey, condensed into a sentence.
Instead, Sam stuck his head in between us. “I want a book wif pictuwes,” he said.
“After Treasure Island” I told him.
I felt a little guilty in the choice, not because Sam had to wait through a chapter before Henry and Mudge could Get the Cold Shivers again, but because Treasure Island is Scott’s story. It’s what he read to Caroline in utero, and it’s what his Dad read the Merriman kids when they were growing up. Caroline has even asked Papa Dave to read her Treasure Island before, but she hasn’t had the attention span for it. So when she brought it to me Monday, I wasn’t about to turn her down. If she was ready now, then I had to start now, because by tomorrow, she might be not-ready again.
My Mom tried to read Treasure Island to me when I was a kid, along with any number of other classics, but I wanted nothing doing. I don’t remember if I found the language off-putting, or if I thought it was too long, or if I just wasn’t into pirates, but I always turned her down for another day. Actually, I always flatly refused. And by the time I got to be an avid reader myself, I had no interest in the classics. I don’t know if it was “mother-block”, whereby I refused to read anything Mom suggested (except that I actually did read many things she suggested), or if I just thought Treasure Island was old and boring, but I never read it. Never even tried it. Unlike Dickens, whose works I periodically at least attempt to read, I had never picked up Treasure Island. (For the Dickens record, I now finally enjoy A Christmas Carol, but can’t stand the rest. Someday, Charles, I will understand you, but we aren’t there yet.)
But I knew Treasure Island was Scott’s favorite when I was pregnant with Caroline, and I wanted her to hear her Daddy’s voice while in the womb. So we would cuddle up, and every night he would read a chapter. We did the same thing with Winnie the Pooh. (Another one I wouldn’t touch in childhood, though, to my credit, Mom wouldn’t either.) And I discovered that I actually enjoyed the stories he read us. Quite a lot. Enough that Caroline and Sam have both been read Pooh multiple times outside the womb, and I feel a little thrill of hope every time we try Caroline on Treasure Island again, followed by a small letdown when she turns out to still be too young. Or perhaps just not ready.
But Monday was different. The girl knew what she was talking about. She was ready. And so, to a lesser degree was little brother. I only had to squawk at Sam twice, when normally an extended period of me not-reading-HIS-book produces outright belligerence on his part. I only read chapter one, but that was far more than either of them had been able to sit through previously, and by Tuesday, she was clamoring for more. And on Tuesday, Scott was home, his semester having culminated the day before (giving him a grand total of 3 days off before the summer term starts), so he could find out about The Reading. To my relief, he is not upset with me, and he actually provides a good pair of fielding hands when Sam gets too bored.
Caroline, though, is rapt. I pause pretty often to break the story down for her. The language is difficult, with cutlasses, buccaneers, and luggars slicing, shooting at, and floating towards things respectively. And she’s got a problem with reading comprehension. She can commit an entire page to memory, but she struggles to then tell you what that page was about or draw any conclusions from it.
Tonight, Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawney were just opening the treasure map when, out of nowhere, Caroline announced, “ ‘I’ is a pronoun. A pronoun takes the place of a noun.”
When Scott and I had finished smothering our delighted laughter, since pronouns are an abstract concept she’s been struggling with for a long time now, I asked her “OK, who does ‘I’ refer to here? Who is the ‘I’ in Treasure Island?”
She screwed up her nose, thinking, then came out with, “Jim!”
Brilliant! And this after she had also remembered an important plot detail: that Jim and his mother had already gone through “the captain’s” treasure chest in the previous chapter, which we read last night. And she had also already drawn the conclusion that it might be Dr. Livesey riding to the rescue when Dance and his men arrived on the scene, which required her to recall that the villagers had been persuaded to send someone for said magistrate in last night’s chapter. (We read two tonight, since it was Friday.)
It’s so wonderful to watch Caroline’s ‘ready’ when she’s blasting forward with it. Tomorrow night, Jim and the doctor will head to Bristol to meet back up with the Squire and secure a ship and crew. I can’t wait until Caroline comes face to face with Long John Silver. She’s going to love it.
Oh. And for a follow up? She wants us to read her Jules Verne’s Journey To the Center of the Earth. That’s another of my Mom’s favorites that I’ve been meaning to finally read. Looks like I’m about to get the chance.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.