A furry good job of reading

The doorbell rings, I open the door and nobody is there. As scripted, I exclaim in surprise that the doorbell rang but nobody is here.

On cue, a 5-year-old in a puffy pink coat barrels around from the side of the porch squealing with laughter. She runs into the house, throws her coat toward the hall tree (but not exactly on it) and races to the front room carrying a stuffed white puppy dog in one arm and dragging a tote bag filled with books with the other arm.

She will be hanging out with us for a few hours today and has brought some early-reader books to read to Grandma.

She climbs onto the loveseat with the faded yellow floral print, courtesy of 20 years of sunshine streaming through the windows, and pulls out “Biscuit and the Great Fall Day.” Biscuit is a yellow puppy featured in simple-sentence adventures for early readers.

“Biscuit and the Great Fall Day,” she softly says, giving me ample time to study the cover.

“Can’t wait!” I say. But I must wait.

She slowly turns to page one, filled with fall pictures, which she gives me time to absorb; then slowly turns to page two, also filled with fall pictures, also giving me more time to absorb. Page three is blank, yet we pause and absorb. This is followed by the title page, then another picture page (is it time for lunch?) and finally the story begins.

“It is a great fall day, Biscuit,” she reads. “Woof, woof!”

She is not using her finger to follow the words, simply pausing, thinking and giving the synapses time to fire. She hesitates before “great.” That “g” with the tail hanging down is a memory prompt for the word “good,” a word more familiar to her.

“Great” is a set-up; it has two vowels side by side. It’s the old, “The first one does the walking and the second one does the talking.” This is a curve ball to our young batter. She holds the “g” in her throat, starts to unleash “goo-“ then abruptly skirts the “d” sound, slides into the “r” sound and finishes off with “great.”

She hits the ball out of the park!

Because reading is more inviting when it is enjoyable, I coach her on Biscuit’s dialog. “Read it with feeling,” I tell her. “Make it sound like a dog would say it—like your dog would say it.”

“Woof!” She emits a guttural woof, sounding like a two-pack-a-day smoker.

The next “woof” comes from deep in her throat and catches a gargling quality.

At the next “woof,” she pauses, squints her eyes ever so slightly, straightens her spine and finds a comfortable and convincing, “woof,” which is good—I mean great— because “woof” is the entirety of Biscuit’s vocabulary.

The next day on the phone with her mother, I mention that I taught her little one to read with color in her voice, whereupon you-know-who “woofs” in the background.

Our daughter, who taught early elementary, deadpanned, “They don’t teach that in school, Mother.”

Of course they don’t, which is why little ones should come to Grandma’s house.


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