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The Learning curve

Confessions of a literacy advocate

No, the term which I sometimes find too pompous is not mine; people have called me that with my grand passion for reading and books.

But I have to confess that this crusade has not been easy, that the label becomes a heavy burden, a scourge.  If grownups tell me how, despite all their good intentions, their children remain reluctant readers, I would instantly respond: Perhaps your child has not found the right book that will convince him or her that reading is pleasurable?

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Yes, what you are saying is all too familiar. I know what you speak of, because the supreme irony is that my three grandchildren are not (yet) the dyed-in-the-wool bookworms I wish them to be. Consider them my current case studies, showing the circuitous paths to literacy.

Diego, 8, is into basketball, drums, music. He enjoyed listening to stories as a toddler, watching stage adaptations of children’s books and enjoying books by Filipino authors. But when he learned to express himself, he said in protest, “But surprises should always be toys, not books.” A minor heartbreak for me, I have to admit.

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When he went on to school, I was happy about his required reading even as a kindergarten student, and when he became a spelling bee winner, I secretly hoped his critical reading skills and his love for words were similarly developing. How reading tastes change.  Last year, he was hysterical over Charlie Brown books, but this time is more interested in basketball cards, biographies of players and joke books.

The day he stayed home because he was sick and I imposed a TV ban, he did not know what to do with himself. Until we struck on a compromise—singing the 100 most popular Christmas songs to lyrics posted on YouTube. I was pleased to see “samples” of his writing on index cards strewn around—his Michael Jordan spiel for his Wax Museum presentation and the list of his sins for a recent confession. He eventually napped with a book of Knock-Knocks beside him.

Emilio, 4, is addicted to the highly successful EvanTube.HD, which documents a Fil-Am family’s daily life. Other programs he watches over and over again are the “Power Rangers,” the “Avengers” and anything on animals. Indeed, TV and the iPhone can be perfect babysitters for family setups overseas, where parents need to do everything. It warmed my heart when he was asking for Eric Carle and David Shannon staples we had read when he was younger. After a ride on the Polar Express, he has been eager to read the book and watch the movie. And when I answered his “figgy pudding” question after googling (I had confessed I did not know the answer), next was, what is a “cup of good cheer”?

He knows lyrics of Christmas carols by heart, never fumbling on any words, so singing is his path to literacy. His last request before I left was to write Santa a letter for him as he feared being on the “naughty” list. I reassured him he had a few days left to mend his ways.

Even a few hours before I left for the airport, I still had a bagful of books I wanted to read to Juliana, 3. My biggest regret was not having read all of these from her library. If I had pleaded not having enough time to read every day, do I blame her doctor-dad and office worker-mom who have laundry and kids’ baths and household chores to mind?

The books I read with her delighted her, but she remembers best “Rapunzel,” as we had watched the stage version in Manila. She wants to grow her hair long so she can also let it down the tower. Of late, with pen in hand, she threatens to list my name for the teacher because I am not listening.

I am not throwing in the towel. I left them our Christmas presents under the tree—books featuring them as characters and a copy of “The Polar Express” via Amazon. I will continue to compete with electronic distractions!

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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