"Where's my book?" asked eleven-year-old lovely lady, crossly.
She tossed her covers about, looked under the bed, stomped across the room to look on her desk. "Hmmph!" she grumped, flopping back onto her bed. "I can't find my book."
I offered her the book I'd chosen for her on my last library visit. It was on her bed next to her pillow this morning, with a bookmark inside. As I left her room and walked down the stairs, I glowed.
This lovely lady with autism has been a book lover from the time she was a tiny baby, and a voracious reader from the time she sat down with Are You My Mother? and read the entire book out loud. ("How did you teach her to read?" asked her teachers. I shrugged. "I didn't," I said. "I just listened while she figured it out.") Here's the catch: Lovely lady only liked to read the same things over and over again. When she was a toddler, I had to read Goodnight Moon over and over and over. We literally read that book to shreds. She memorized everything I read to her. At age three, after two readings, she could recite nearly the entire text of Where the Wild Things Are. In the primary grades, she was obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes. Over and over and over she read each book, in her own particular order, pacing the room. If the books weren't handy, no matter. She'd already memorized them anyway. Finally she branched out into chapter books, but only certain chapter books, usually books in a series, and always the same books over and over and over. Betsy-Tacy was the first of these kinds of books-- I "forgot" to pack lovely lady's beloved Calvin and Hobbes. And in her backpack instead, waiting to be discovered during the long drive to Grandpa's house, was a pretty book with a charming picture of little girls on the cover.
At some point we realized that lovely lady, while a very fluent reader, struggles mightly with comprehension. Reading the same stories over and over help her to finally understand what the story is really about. This past school year, I insisted that she spend twenty minutes a day reading a book that's new to her. You'd think I'd asked her to fetch me the moon. Every day she grumped and groaned as she grumbled her way toward her favorite reading chair. But as the year wound on I noticed that the grumping and groaning during the actual reading time had waned. She usually sits to read now, instead of pacing. Instead of pretending to read, but reciting a different book instead, she sits quietly, turning the pages.
Last night she was looking for Bridge to Terebithia, a book she's never read before, because she wanted to know what came next and couldn't stand that she couldn't find it. She started a new book and bookmarked her place because she wants to read it again the next day. She was able to tell me a little about the story. Just at the point that I was considering clearing out all of the more "girlie" chapter books, she's combing the bookshelves for new books. She's growing up and learning how to read, to really read.
Her victories may be small. But for her, and for me, sometimes those small steps are huge. With this lovely young lady I don't take the little steps for granted.
What a blessing, that little glow I feel when I think about her discovering the world of books in a whole new way.