When learning to read goes wrong

Learning to read

My five-year-old son is learning to read. Like all Kiwi new entrants who are learning to read, he’s starting with sight words: “The”, “my”, “like”, and so on. We’ve made flash cards and every night we go over them together. If he can’t remember a word, he says, “Don’t know.” He doesn’t even try to sound them out. That is, until the other day, when his new literacy skills nearly got me into trouble.

You see, it was my 29th birthday (again), and I received a funny card which happened to have a rude word on it. A rude word beginning with F.

Yes, I know, I’m supposed to be a good role model and swearing is uncouth and little pitchers have big ears and all that. But I’m a journalist and if you’ve ever been in a busy newsroom with other journalists, you’d know that swearing is practically an Olympic sport. I’m not going to pretend I’ve never cursed. Don’t you pretend either. (And if you haven’t said it out loud, I guarantee that as a parent, you’ve thought in curse words sometimes.)

So, thinking to myself that Master Five can’t read anyway, and Miss 11 knows that she’s not allowed to swear until she’s 18 (and then she can say all the rude words she wants to, until she’s blue in the face), I left this funny card with the rude word on it sitting on the kitchen bench for my husband to see. And along came Master Five, who decided that day was the day to start sounding words out.

“J-j-j, uh-uh-uh, st-st-st, juh-st, just…” he began, and from my spot on the lounge sofa, I called out, “Oh, well done, are you sounding out words?”

“Yup,” he replied. “I know the next word. It’s ‘y-y-you!'”

“Great job,” I praised, turning a page in my own book. “What are you reading?”

“Oh, just this card here on the bench,” he replied. “The next word is ‘f-f-f, uh-uh-uh…'”

I tossed my book aside, leapt up from the sofa, tore across the lounge, and whipped the card from his hands before he could get any further. Up to the top of the bookshelf it went, and Master Five, perplexed and annoyed, said, “Hey! I was reading that!”

“Yes, and you were doing a great job!” I said brightly. “Now, how about some leftover birthday cake?”

What I’m reading this week: The Sun Is Also A Star, by Nicola Yoon (Corgi Childrens $23)

The plot of this novel could be ripped from the headlines. Natasha and her family are undocumented immigrants only 12 hours away from being deported back to Jamaica, a country she and her brother Peter don’t know at all. Daniel is the “good son” of hard-working Korean immigrants, whose older brother Charlie has just upset their parents’ dreams by getting kicked out of Harvard. Told in alternating chapters from the points of view of Natasha and Daniel, with interludes from other people they meet, the two forge an unlikely friendship that turns into romance. Their intense half-day together could end in so many different ways, depending on the whims and choices of the people around them. Heartbreaking and compelling, I couldn’t put it down, and the ending made me cry because it was just perfect.

Scroll to Top