Look To the Western Sky

A blog about single life as a parent & the dreams of a writer by Margo L. Dill

Teach a Child To Read and Open Up Her World

I am so very honored to have children’s author Fiona Ingram on my blog today with her WOW! Women On Writing blog tour for her latest book,  The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper. This is a middle-grade adventure book that is part of a series, but this book can also be read as a standalone. In this book, Adam, Justin, and Kim  are hunted by their old enemy and readers will wonder if they can survive long enough to find the Third Stone of Power. With only a young boy, Tukum, as their guide, the kids make their way through the dense and dangerous jungle to find the lost city of stone gods, where the Stone of Power might be located. River rafting on a crocodile-infested river and evading predators are just part of this hazardous task. Of course, their old adversary Dr. Khalid is close behind as the kids press on. But he is not the worst of their problems. This time, Adam will clash with a terrible enemy who adopts the persona of an evil Aztec god, Tezcatlipoca, and is keen to revive the ancient tradition of human sacrifice. Adam, Justin, and Tukum must play a dreadful ball game of life and death. Will Dr. Khalid find the third Stone of Power before they do?

The post below will give you a good glimpse into Fiona and her writing.  This is a beautiful post about how she taught a young girl to read, and this  young girl became someone very special to her. At the end of the post, you will easily see why she titled it–“The Rainbow Child and Her Paper Mom.” 

The Rainbow Child and Her Paper Mom by Fiona Ingram

Anyone who has read some of my articles will know that one of my passions in being a children’s author is child literacy. I can’t imagine any author not being concerned with literacy. Literacy is a skill that must be learned, and this simple skill can deliver a child from a life of drudgery to a life filled with opportunity. It all starts at home, where children should grow up surrounded by books, and with parents encouraging them to read and discover the wonderful world of books. That’s in an ideal world, of course.

The truth is that in many places around the world, “at home’”for thousands of children offers no source of education when their parents are either still illiterate, or simply do not have the skills to assist their children with homework. Poverty also means that food comes before books. When South Africa (my home country) achieved democracy, Nelson Mandela called the country a “rainbow nation.” Sadly, there aren’t many pots of gold at the end of the rainbow for a lot of children there. But one little girl, my rainbow child, has found her pot of gold. Here is the story of the rainbow child and her paper mom. I hope it will inspire others to help children read.

I never imagined myself as a mother. Growing up with four brothers, three of them younger than me, meant I had my fair share of bottles, diapers, homework, bedtime stories and all the things big sisters do. My studies and career came first for a long time and the men I dated weren’t interested in having kids. Then the biggest drawback of all: I never felt “grown-up enough” to take on the responsibility of my own child. The year I went overseas with my two nephews, the year that inspired my first children’s book, (The Secret of the Sacred Scarab) I suddenly had this desire to adopt a child. Not give birth, please note, but adopt some little mite who needed a home. Two weeks in Egypt with my nephews aged 10 and 12 were enough to rid me of any maternal feelings and make me decide to just stick to being a good aunt. I had changed my mind about children.

About three months after this trip, I had a visit from a domestic worker who had worked for me a few years back—she had a problem. She arrived with her daughter Mabel, now aged eleven. I remembered Mabel as an enchanting child aged six, all arms and legs and a big smile. But I got married, Josephine left my employ, and we didn’t see each other for another five years. Josephine came straight to the point and asked me to foster Mabel, so she could get a better education.

Thinking for the briefest of nano-seconds that nothing would change, I said yes. Of course, everything changed. Mabel had already failed Grade 2, was advised to repeat Grade 4, and was basically illiterate. How is that possible, I asked myself? I began the slow and often painful task of teaching her all over again, supplemented by many extra lessons. It was not easy. Mabel was scoring only 19% for English at school. Opening the doors into the wonderful world of books seemed insurmountable because she simply did not understand the connection between the written and spoken word. What to do? Begin at the beginning seemed a good idea. Mabel baulked at first, never having had to apply her mind or develop motivation. She’d been told so many times she was a failure (stupid)—what else was there to look forward to? I rose to the challenge and, happily for her, so did Mabel.

I started off with my old favorites and Mabel loved them. Although we grew up poor (five children to feed, clothe, and educate), my parents always had books in the house. And then of course, there were the books we inherited from my grandparents. My very old copy of The Wind in the Willows, with those simple yet beautiful illustrations, is still on my bookshelf. Ratty and Mole were my heroes (and still are!). Other old friends are The Secret Garden, with exquisite color plates; The Water Babies; Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series; my collection of the Lucy Fitch Perkins’ Twins series, with her poignant stories of children of all eras and places around the world. I particularly loved Anne of Avonlea, The Little Princess, and many others.

I began with the Twins’ series. Suddenly, the words were not frightening because Mabel was hearing about places and people she’d never imagined. She’d lean over my shoulder, breathing down my neck as I read, my finger tracing the words as I sounded them out. The pages began to surrender the magical words, and she found them enchanting! Fired with success, we moved on to the rest of the library, slowly devouring my children’s classic book collection in very tiny bite-sized pieces. I was still doing most of the reading.

One day, Mabel decided she’d help with the words and began reading to me. It was still incredibly slow, but I began to see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. We got movies of books, watched them, and then read the books, just in case the moviemakers had left out some important bits. We expanded our repertoire book by book. I found other ways to sneak words into her day, not just when we were doing serious reading. She read recipes with me when we baked; she read the instructions on the packaging to me while we prepared dinner; she read advertisements to me when we shopped. Suddenly words were a constant part of her life.

Mabel also began to show her imaginative side at school. Her poems and creative writing pieces began to change, reflecting more color, bigger words, more complex themes and emotions. Her first big word was “camouflage.” Sounds silly, but for Mabel it was a breakthrough! We still laugh about it. In all her subjects, her marks began to inch up. The final moment of success came when she turned to my mother and said, “Gran, will you buy me a book?”

My mother nearly fell off her chair and replied, “You can have as many as you like, darling.”

Mabel grinned. “Oh, then can you buy me all the Twilight books please?”

Mabel has developed more serious reading habits since Edward and Bella (phew!), listing Angela’s Ashes, To Kill a Mockingbird, and (Mary Shelley’s) Frankenstein, among her ‘fave books. I adopted Mabel in 2009 at the specific request of both her parents, thus becoming her “paper mom,’”her mom on paper as she describes it. Mabel is in regular contact with her biological family and considers herself fortunate to have two families!

Isn’t Fiona amazing? Don’t forget to check out her middle-grade book series! Find everything you need to know on her website here. 

 

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for hosting me, and for your continued support of my work, Margo. Greatly appreciated.

  2. What a great story! The love of reading is truly a gift.

  3. luvboxerdogs

    August 22, 2018 at 8:53 am

    Pat: Fiona’s story gives me chills. And I’m so glad that Katie has been bringing books in the car to read when we go somewhere–on her own, without my encouragement. 🙂

  4. This is fantastic! I love the transformation of reading for this young lady. This is incredible!

    • luvboxerdogs

      August 23, 2018 at 5:55 pm

      I know. I also love that she asked them to buy her Twilight. I have to admit I read all 4 of those and went to see all 4 movies. There’s something about Bella and Edward.

      • Then you will enjoy this. I have not read the books, just a few paragraphs of not my cup of tea writing was enough, nor have I watched the movies. I did watch 10 minutes with Mabel (who loved them) as the seasons changed in the sky and Bella sat waiting (for Edward, we presume?). I said to Mabel, “This is so boring.” Her reply, “That’s what teenagers are like.” I had to laugh. Yes, I believe it did get more exciting once the battles started…

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