Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Like a lot of kids in preschool, my son Joe’s bedtime ritual included reading. Unlike lots of kids his age, Joe only wanted to read the stats on baseball cards. In the beginning, I would read them to him. As time went on and he mastered numbers, I would read the category, RBI or Runs Batted In for example, and Joe would read the associated number. He especially liked reading the number of hits by stars of the New York Yankees, especially Derek Jeter’s 206 hits in 2007.
Every once in awhile I would suggest that we add – not substitute, mind you - a Dr. Seuss book or a classic like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are to our routine, but Joe wanted none of it. He was all baseball, all the time.
By the time Joe got to kindergarten, he was willing to mix it up a bit. He added entire books with player stats and even a few that featured the bios of the greatest-yet baseball and hockey players. I would read the words; he’d cover all the numbers. He was really good at reading numbers.
A couple of years went by and Joe advanced to the second grade where he is now perfecting his reading and math skills. Through the grapevine he learned about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Earlier this fall, Joe wandered into Jack’s room – a dreamy, yet forbidden den of books on science and rock and roll; with some cool guitars, a computer, and the allure of everything older brother. He grabbed the Wimpy Kids books off Jack’s shelf and made it out before being discovered and banished, not for the first time. That night, Joe and I lay in his bed and switched off reading paragraphs. My boy could read. He could also count the number of letters in all the big words he read.
One day in the fall of 2009, Joe picked up a draft of Saving Henry. I was working on my final edits. As you will see when you read the book, each chapter starts with a list of some of Henry’s favorite things. Joe sat on the couch reading and turning pages. “Mom,” he said, “Where am I?” Joe was just one when Henry died so his birth comes near the end of the book. “Keep looking,” I responded knowingly. The list that precedes Chapter 16 begins with “Making Funny Faces at Joe.” When Joe was a baby, Henry loved holding him and making him laugh. Henry discovered quickly that the best and fastest route to a string of happiness-producing giggles was by scrunching up his nose, wiggling his lips, and sticking out his tongue. Henry used to do it over and over again to Joe’s delight.
“I want it to just say Joe,” Joe said. “One of the lists just says Jack.”
“He loved you so much, Joe,” I clarified. “If you want, I would be happy to change it to just say “Joe.” In my writing, I had thought that “Making Funny Faces at Joe” and just “Joe” were the same thing as they exemplified a single source of true love for his oldest brother.
“Don’t change it mom,” Joe clarified. “Just add another one that says Joe. Because he loved me and he loved making funny faces at me.”
Now that was a good – and very important – catch by my youngest editor.