This week our four-year-old has been learning her first sight words. I, can, said, no, to, not, you, here, help, play, where, and we have all been written onto flashcards before being splatted by a fly swat as she recognises each word. She’s had great fun splatting, and it has allowed her to join in when we’re reading to her before bedtime.
I’m reminded of all the exploring she has ahead of her. She’ll tiptoe along wainscots with Arrietty. She’ll whitewash the fence alongside Tom Sawyer. She’ll grope around Gollums’ cave in the darkness and guess the password in front of the Fat Lady in Hogwarts. To have all of this in front of her, undiscovered, is a precious thing, and one I’m not a little jealous of.
Part of me wants to be the one holding the lantern as she descends the well in Moonfleet, to show her which star she should be flying towards for Neverland. Nevertheless, if I read these stories to her in lieu of her discovering them herself, I become an unnecessary middle man. Any PhD qualitative researcher worth their salt will tell you that unconscious bias is everywhere. I’ll inevitably place emphasis onto passages of text that enthralled me, sections that might not interest someone five or ten years younger than I was when I read these books.
I’ve come to the conclusion, then, that I’m superfluous in what should be a bilateral relationship between author and reader. These are great books – generations of children before me have come to that conclusion without my assistance. Writers such as C.S. Lewis know how to tell their stories better than I do. My daughter should be allowed to explore these worlds in her own time, in her own head, because the Hogwarts of my imagination will never be the Hogwarts of hers.
I’ll read to her as long as she loves being read to, but hers will be the hand holding the candle as Tom and Becky explore McDougal’s cave.