Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Alchemist finds a friend

I've spent hundreds of dollars on books for my son. He has a bookshelf in his room, and has been surrounded by books all his life. I started reading to him when he was born.

And he used to love books. We would visit the library, and he would borrow more books than he could carry, so I would also have an armload.

Then he went to public school, Montessori, but still public. And when he was required to read in fourth grade, he lost his love for reading. Gone were his desires to borrow books from the library, or to read anything at all.

Once I brought him home for schooling in fifth grade, he regained some of his desire for non-fiction, but it has never recovered fully. His interest in fiction extended only as far as "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," and a few of the old "Goosebumps" books.

And so, I've brought home so many books, trying to get him interested in reading again. He's 13, and had never read a novel until last month, when he finally finished "The Alchemist."
I bought that book at Costco as a Christmas gift for him, on a whim. I read a couple of pages, and it seemed interesting to me. As I checked out, a guy who was loading my items into the cart commented on how great the book was. I didn't have a lot of hope, but I gave it to Sean early, in November, anyway. I expected him to read the first chapter and put it down, never to read another page. That has been the fate of so many of his books.

But I encouraged him to finish it. Each evening I would tell him to read, and the next day I would ask him, with a mix of subdued excitement and quiet hope, "What's happening in the book, now?" Whatever he said, I expressed genuine interest. Whether he had read one page, or ten, I let him know that I was interested in what was going to happen next.

And finally, once I was certain he was enjoying the book, I decided we needed to come up with a deadline. I've avoided forcing him to read, because I felt that was what killed his love for reading in the first place. But now that he's getting older, and we're in the middle of Middle School, I told him he has to get used to having assignments and deadlines for completing them.

He took the book with him when he went to visit a friend, and although he didn't read it that weekend, he shared it with the friend and his mom. He has also talked about it to a friend he has on Xbox Live, who lives in Canada. And GLORY Halleluiah! that kid is a reader, and has recommended a book called, "The Hatchet." He talked about how he has 79 books on his book shelf, and it seems to have reignited Sean's interest in books.

I was so pleased with the way he understood the nuances of the book, and made connections with the metaphors for life. I knew nothing about the book when I bought it, and I realize now that it's probably not something a typical 13 year old would be expected to read. But I'm glad I didn't know, because Sean totally got it. And I didn't use any pre-fab lesson plan, nor did I require him to make notes and answer a bunch of questions about it. That's the quickest way to ruin a book for me. I think he liked the book so much because I asked him to retell it to me every day, and he understood it so well because he had to explain so much to me because I've never read it.

Here's what I did do in order to engage him a little more: I suggested that he pretend he is a book publisher, and Paulo Coelho, the author, has submitted the book to him, asking for it to be published. He liked the book, so I said, "Now, you need to write a summary of the book that you believe will entice people to want to buy it, because if they buy it, it means money for you, and for Paulo."

In addition to this, I asked him to pretend he is a movie producer, and has decided to make the book into a movie.
He carefully wrote down each character, a description of them, and then the actor or actress he would choose to play each role. He found photos of them online, printed them and cut them to size, and created this movie poster.

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