We got an e-mail with a reading conundrum that we have never encountered before, which leaves me…surprised. I mean, just when you think you more or less have a grasp on the spectrum of crazy crap that kids go through, someone comes along and shows you that you've been trying to draw a line, or maybe even construct a plane, when in reality you're throwing together a massive whacked-out three-dimensional shape that can't even, in its ultimate complexity, begin to convey the total broad insanity that is children's development. Perhaps my geometry-based metaphor makes no sense? Probably so. You want to know what else makes no sense? Read on:
This is (a somewhat edited version of) the e-mail we got.
My nearly 4-year-old has, until the last six-ish months or so, been a massively book-loving child. As in, we couldn't get enough books in the house, he would want us to read everything and anything, we would read to him at meal times, on the potty, on the bus, in restaurants. If he was sad, or bored, or frustrated, or whatever, his refuge was books — he'd bring me a pile of them (or one favourite one) and we would snuggle and read and all would be well (or at least better). He had started reading, enthusiastically, a load of early-readers that my retired-teacher grandmother had given him. The only downside was the fact that I was always on the hunt for new books that
would be long enough and entertaining enough without being too grown-up or scary for him (and I've had help in the past from you and your readers, which brought us the world of My Father's Dragon and Jenny Linsky and Robert McCloskey among other lovely, and much-loved things).
About six months ago, he started getting really restrictive about what he would let us read. It started with requesting with one or two familiar books over and over, and went on to refusing to let us read any new books. Now were at a stage where he's not only refusing new books, but he's refusing to let us read all but one (occasionally two) of his old books. My mother sent him a parcel filled with some of my old books that she had kept and he was almost in tears when he discovered that's what was in it. Fortunately for us, the book that he's letting us read is a Milly-Molly-Mandy compendium with about 40 stories in it, so I'm not stuck reading the same 20 pages over and over again.
It feels like we've lost something. Stories only come out at bedtime now, and only this one book. They don't provide the all-encompassing role of time-passer, comforter, companion, information-provider, imagination-stirrer. The self-reading has virtually stopped dead. My husband has suggested that I'm only sad about this because I want my son to have the relationship with books that I had and have, and that I need to let him (my son) find his own relationship with books. Which is fair enough. But it seems like he *had* found his own relationship with books, but now it's gone.
I guess what I'm looking for from you and your readers is lots of people to say "Oh yes, my son/daughter was like that for a little while, and now we can't prise the books out of her hands." But I'd be happy with any other comfort/suggestions you might have.
Here's the thing: I have encountered this problem in other realms for sure. Diana, as a baby, used to weep when she saw a bunch of broccoli because we couldn't cook it fast enough to suit her, she loved it so. Then one day: gone. No exceptions. No softening. This goes, as well, for movies for us sometimes. Chestnut as a tiny person was willing to sit through The Wizard of Oz with perfect aplomb, even the terrifying freak-you-out-of-your-mind flying monkeys part. Now? Meet Me in St. Louis has her running out into the hall crying out, "Tell me what's happening! Is it going to be OK?!" It just happens, and (as far as I've found) there isn't much you can do about it.
Which more or less brings me to my not-so-helpful idea: this seems to me like some sort of worry or anxiety. As the parent of another very-early-reading child, I know that it comes with its own burdens: you're different, people (at school and at daycare) make a very big deal about it in a way you might not be comfortable with. People start to expect something different from you, and it's hard. Also, there is a sense of growing up faster, which can be scary. These are all things I witnessed here, but I don't know that it's what is going on there, of course. So we will now move from possibly useless speculation, and go to possible things to do.
It's not entirely clear to me exactly what sorts of things this child is interested in. Magic? Dragons? Trains? If there is anything that is a special love, maybe get a few of those books and (this will only work if your house is as disgustingly messy as mine, where it's never a surprise to sit on a book or a hairbrush or whatever, so there's lots of camoflauge) leave them around, just like friendly little options. Also, maybe ask at school or daycare if the same thing is happening there? Sometimes kids, especially ones who have made massive developmental leaps forward, just want to be little again, at home and having parents read and read the same thing over and over.
Which brings me to my last, and probably only truly helpful, section: readers, has anything like this happened to you and yours? I am sure we all know the deep comfort that comes from a fellow traveler on a long dark road. Talk it up in the comments, if you can.