please mum can we play the metaphor game?

Here’s a “who-woulda-thunk?” idea to add to your Minor But Magical Adjustments list for enticing your Reluctant Reader:

My 11-yr-old gets a quarter for every metaphor or simile he finds in the novel we’re reading together. He also has to explain what is being compared to what. If he guesses wrong, he loses a dime.

So far he’s earned $4.55 and he can’t get enough of it (if your kid isn’t as fiscally motivated as mine, you could clock 5 extra minutes of reading for every score). He reads over my shoulder to make sure he misses nothing. Debates over “the fire died down” and “his spirits rose” led us to a discussion of dead metaphors and whether they count. He’s also started observing prose style in general: he pointed out that people’s gazes are too often “deep” and “dark” in The Dark is Rising.

Praise be, the child has no idea yet how fundamentally nerdy a game this is! This is probably something he’ll describe someday to his friends at the pub as an example of his parents’ cruel eccentricities. Or if poetic justice prevails, someday he’ll lampoon me in a novel.

Next up: a simpler version for little brother, who is envious and resents being bragged to.

the original

My dad read me The Hobbit when I was ten years old.  I barely remembered the story, from back then–just the pleasantness of the together-time, and the fact that my little brother got scared at one point and left the room.

But when I read Eragon to my own ten-year-old, I kept having deja vu.  By the time we got to the scene with the precarious ledge around the lake leading to the dwarves’ caves, where the menacing battle-trolls are bearing down on the heroes, I remembered where I’d heard it before.

So I pulled out The Hobbit.  Some of it we read aloud, and some we listened to in the car (a strategem I should add to the list for reluctant readers) after I downloaded the audiobook.  And yup: this book clearly struck the precedent for all kinds of fantasy that has followed it.  Some of Dr. Tolkien’s bar-setting renditions of mythological motifs include the unlikely hero, the band of helpers, the magical object, tunnelling into the dark, riddling with the enemy, thieving from the hoard, and rescue from the skies.

But in my opinion Tolkien’s highest accomplishment is his narrative voice: that benevolent, fatherly, omniscient voice that guides us with wisdom and humor through Bilbo’s adventure.  And when it comes to voice, a truer inheritor of Tolkien than the author of the Eragon books is Neil Gaiman. 

Reading The Graveyard Book aloud, as with The Hobbit, I felt powerful and wise, like I was wearing the mantle of a fireside grandfather.  

If you (or your kids) are dragon fans, or series fans, you’ll read Paolini sooner or later.  But don’t let The Hobbit give you the slip.  And regardless of your tastes in fiction, don’t pass up The Graveyard Book–it’s very, very special.

Reluctant-reader subterfuge, Part II

Okay, your kid is reading now, thanks to your faithful adherence to the seven Minor But Magical Adjustments laid out in Part I.  Or maybe you’re not quite there yet, but you happen to know that reading and writing are flipsides of the same skill set.

So here’s another seven MBMAs, focused this time on getting the kid’s pencil to paper.  Same caveat applies: patience and good humor, people!

1. Pass notes.  No, really: get a paper and a pencil, and write a naughty little note (preferably one that demands a naughty response), fold it up really small, and pass it under the table to your kid.  Do this with lots of winks and nudges, and do it often.

2. Create scavenger hunts.  Note #1 says, “Look in the bathtub,” wherein Note #2 says, “Look in the washing machine,” and so on.  Leave a treat in the final location. (If you have bad knees and a row house, use this tactic under advisement; your kid will send you on twenty hunts for every one you create for him!).

3. Make wish-lists from Toys R Us flyers or from the website. Birthday lists, Hanukkah, ideas for gifts for so-and-so’s upcoming birthday party–any excuse is good.  Laborious copying-out is excellent practice, and if the next day you bring home the ZhuZhu he wanted most, the reinforcement will sear it into his brain forever: writing=good!

4. Get a label-maker and let him label everything he owns.

5. Get a second-hand electric typewriter.  They still sell replacement ribbons!  This ancient technology has an instant-gratification factor for a kid that the laptop just can’t offer.  Let him write out the words to a song he’s not allowed to sing, and watch the magic happen.

6. Find comics templates like this one online, print them out, and let the kid fill in the text.

7. Rediscover the lost art of pen pals.  Have a friend or grandparent write the kid a letter (no cursive, please!) that contains candy and concludes with, “If you write me back, I will send you another letter and treat!” (Note that you’ll have to rig this.  A one-sentence letter from the kid has to suffice, and you may have to give the pen pal the script and/or the candy).