I'm actually not talking about my Henry but the horrid Henry of the children's books. The Horrid Henry series, written by Francesca Simon and illustrated by Tony Ross, tells of the life and adventures of a very naughty -- let's just say, outrageously unpleasant -- boy named Henry.
My son Oliver is in third grade and despite his often alarming acuity and ability to articulate his feelings and thoughts, he struggles mightily with reading and writing. While he can come up with amazing stories and tells them with "above grade level" vocabulary and skill, when he puts pen to paper it looks more like cuneiform. The boy literally can not spell. And while he focuses beautifully and listens rapturously when read to, his own reading is tortured and "still below grade level."
I should appease all you sharp-eared folks who might think "learning disability" or "something wrong," -- his teacher and I don't yet think so, and he is making progress all the time, but I consider myself heroic if I don't box his ears while listening to him sound out the word has five times on one page.
Huh - ah- s, he says.
HAS! I screech, You just read the same word, here and here and here!
And such is the spirit of this boy that he yells right back at me OH YEAH! HAS! and then we're off again, finger on the page, tracing the letter, me coaching and biting my lip and wondering how in the hell I happened to have a child who doesn't love to read. Because that's the crux of it all, actually. It's all about me. I remember vividly when I really learned how to read. It was like an explosion that just went on, I guess, forever. It's still exploding, actually. I remember The Big Red Book in my kindergarten class and how I already knew all the Tom, Betty and Susan sentences. I remember moving on to The Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew in first grade, and The Secret Garden and A Little Princess in the second; by the third grade I was reading The Hobbit and then there was just no stopping my seemingly insatiable desire to read every book I could get my hands on.
So much for passing that gene on. Sigh. But parenting is like that, no? An endless series of compromises and humiliations, hidden joys and the occasional blind-side.
One of my favorite blogs is A Diamond in the Window because it's all about children's books and reading. I don't read it for my children, actually; I read it for myself. It brings back memories of the libraries I went to as a child, their dusty, dim shelves and the almost shivery excitement I felt when I left, my many books piled high in my arms as I climbed into my mother's car. One of the great features of the blog is recommendations of books for particular readers. It was at A Diamond in the Window that I read about Horrid Henry and promptly ordered four of them: Horrid Henry, Horrid Henry's Stinkbomb, Horrid Henry Tricks the Tooth Fairy, and Horrid Henry and the Soccer Fiend.
When they came, Oliver groaned and tossed them aside, flippantly telling me, once again, how much he hated reading and they looked stupid.
You can see where we're headed. It turns out that Horrid Henry is genius, as my Henry likes to say. It's laugh-out-loud funny, in an irreverent but not obnoxious way.
And Oliver loves it.
from Horrid Henry's School Project:
Horrid Henry scowled. He hated working in groups. He detested sharing. He loathed listening to others. Their ideas were always wrong. His ideas were always right. But the other children in Henry's groups never recognized Henry's genius. For some reason, they wanted to do things their way, not his.
and from Horrid Henry Reads a Book:
Oh. A reading competition. Horrid Henry slumped in his chair. Phooey. reading was hard, heavy work. Just turning the pages made Henry feel exhausted. Why couldn't they ever do fun competitions, like whose tummy could rumble the loudest, or who shouted out the most in class, or who knew the rudest words? Horrid Henry would win those competitions every time.
Kindergarten graduation - May 2007