“Daddy, read to me.”
My daughter stood there, her face full of innocence, her eyes pleading, and her hand holding a familiar book by Dr. Seuss as she waited for me to respond. Ellie was six years old, but precocious; vivacious and articulate; independent, yet a voracious devourer of my attention. For seven years her health and development had been my muse.
“Please daddy, read me a story.”
Not now, I thought. I’m studying. I’m trying to leave my mark on the world. I've set goals. I’ve got deadlines. I’m working. I'm busy.
“Why don’t you read that to your brother? Dad is busy,” seemed like a reasonable answer. So I said it.
Isn’t that why I taught her to read, I thought, to free myself of reading to her? Ellie was more than capable of reading the book she held out to me—she had read it at least a dozen times, and she would regularly read books ten times its length in an afternoon—was I wrong?
Reflecting on this taught me that she enjoyed our story as much as she enjoyed the stories on the page. Before she learned to walk, she learned to maneuver her crawling self and a large board book across the room and into my lap.
That predilection is not precisely what I had planned for her. Sure, I wanted her to be literate—but when she was still crawling, in 2009, I had a different curriculum in mind. I’m analytical—I crunch numbers for fun. You see, numbers are the vocabulary of mathematics—mathematics is a language, numbers are words, quantization is thought—and fluency in numbers was the gift I wanted to give her.
To no one’s great surprize but my own, Ellie was not interested in my developmental psychology hacks for grokking number theory as a toddler.
She was interested in stories. So, as any good autodidact would do, in the four years from 2009 to 2013 I read up on our theories of how best to teach children to read. Despite her precociousness and her desire, Ellie didn’t learn to read without effort. She was easily frustrated with fleeting forays into instruction. But she wanted to read and to be read to with a fiery passion …