Fresh Air and wrote about it here, I requested one of her collections, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, through our library system. It is very fine. Here is a poem that got me thinking about how children become readers, and the unique developmental processes involved that engage the whole child.
Why the Novel Is Necessary but Sometimes Hard to Read
It happens in time. Years passed until the old woman,
one snowy morning, realized she had never loved her daughter...
Or, Five years later she answered the door, and her suitor had returned
almost unrecognizable from his journey.
But before you get to that part you have to learn the names
you have to suffer not knowing anything about anyone
and slowly come to understand who each of them is, or who each of them
imagines him or herself to be --
and then, because you are the reader, you must try to understand who
you think each of them is because of who you believe yourself to be
in relation to their situation
or to your memory of one very much like it.
Oh it happens in time and time is hard to live through.
I can't read anything anymore, my dying brother said one afternoon,
not even letters. Come on, come on, he said, waving his hand in the air,
What am I interested in--plot?
You come upon the person the author put there
as if you'd been pushed into a room and told to watch the dancing--
pushed into pantries, into basements, across moors, into
the great drawing rooms of great cities, into the small cold cabins, or
to here, beside the small running river where a boy is weeping,
and no one comes,
and you have to watch without saying anything he can hear.
One by one the readers come and watch him weeping by the running river,
and he never knows,
unless he too has read the story where a boy feels himself all alone.
This is the life you have written, the novel tells us. What happens next?
Oh my. Let me give you a moment.
Doesn't she describe perfectly how harrowing it can be within a novel? How we are always already intimately involved and yet powerless to speak, to change or move the events and characters that are changing and moving us?
We suspected Frances had learned to read for some time before she shared her abilities with us. She was afraid of losing her connection to us if she became an independent reader. When you are three years old, what good is a story read to oneself? Stories were about security, attention, intimacy, love. They still are, but she wasn't so sure that would be the case--until one day when she was ready to take the risk. Shortly after her fourth birthday I was reading Stuart Little aloud with her. She stopped me at the end of a paragraph, and asked if she could read the next one, which she proceeded to do, flawlessly.
And now she is in a new moment with reading: curled on the couch this morning, for example, clad in striped pajamas, her nose deep in a book, decidedly unable to hear me asking her repeatedly to get dressed for school. The girl for whom separation has always been the worst and most terrifying punishment has come to a place where she is secure enough--emotionally hardy enough--to be alone in a book.
I think it still taxes her, this experience of solitude, of having to tolerate the not-knowing of a story while it slowly unfolds, all by herself. Being pushed into places as benign as the Pye family's neighborhood is hard. Though the people who live in it are charming, they are not going out of their way to explain themselves to Frances, to answer her questions or reassure her of their eventual fates. As a new reader of novels, she is learning to sit with the discomfort and trust in an unknown future. (Which is kind of like growing up, come to think of it.)
After she put the book down this morning, she followed me all around the house. I want to be with you, Mama! she retorted after I told her to go upstairs and get some socks from her room. Like, all the time? I asked. Yes, she said. Please come upstairs with me. Thinking now about the new independence and emotional resilience she has been practicing as a reader, I'm glad I agreed.