Budding bookworms

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

We have two readers in the house now. Other than being more careful about the Post-it notes I leave around the house and the two sets of eyes peering over my shoulder at text messages, it's a great thing.

Our first-grader, Liam, is now reading chapter books like the Magic Tree House series and a graphic-novel series called Super Dinosaur. If he's not sleepy when we put him to bed, he wears a headlamp and reads under the covers. If he wakes up before the clock strikes 7 (any attempts to engage with Daddy before that are unwise and highly discouraged), Liam often finds a nearby book to pass the time. "I think I'm becoming a bookworm," he said recently as his parents and librarian grandma burst with pride.

I'd forgotten what a milestone and a thrill it is to become a proficient reader. Watching my children has reminded me of running errands with my mom and reading billboards aloud just because I could. Everything was starting to make sense.

Still, the true significance of this new skill doesn't completely sink in as a child. I remember feeling like Sesame Street was always going overboard in its claim that reading was magic and that books could take you anywhere. (The show also had me convinced that littering was the most heinous crime you could commit - not a bad scare tactic, in retrospect.)

But now, watching my own kids, it truly does feel magical - like someone gave my kids a decoder ring, and now all these squiggly symbols that were previously a jumbled, incoherent mess have been reassembled into tidy, revealing messages about our world. Even when they get those messages wrong, it's still awesome. As a kindergartner, Liam spotted the sign for "John Eagle Candies" and emphatically proclaimed, "John! Igloo! Kansas!"

When they get it right, further explanation is often needed to fully grasp the meaning. My kids have always been curious, but now that they can read, it has only opened the door to more questions - this time with a specificity that tends to expose my own ignorance about things I thought I understood but, when prodded, do not. A recent conversation in the car:

"Is 'KFC' a restaurant?"

"Yeah. It stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken."

"Why is there a picture of an old man on the sign?"

"That's Colonel Sanders. He … started KFC. I think."

"Why do they call him 'colonel?'"

"Probably because he was in the Army at some point."

"Is he still alive?"

"No."

"Did he die in a war?"

"I don't think so."

"When did he die?"

"I have no idea, Liam. A long time ago probably."

"Like 100 years ago?"

"No, like 50 years ago. Maybe. I don't know. I really don't know much about Colonel Sanders."

-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer who later became curious about Colonel Sanders' life but found the "amateur obstetrician" descriptor in Sanders' official bio a little disturbing.