Stay Gold, Ponyboy. (Teaching our Boys to Read and Write)

IMG_1094Boys don’t like to read.  Watch the messages that they’re given.  Boys play sports, and wrestle, and play video games.  Girls read; just look at the early reader chapter books:  Judy Moody, Ivy and Bean, & Junie B. Jones.  When X was in first grade, we got a scolding by his teacher, because the books he read (Harry Potter, Captain Underpants, and Percy Jackson) were too violent for six year olds.  When I asked her what else he should read, she didn’t have an answer for me.

X is a reader.  He laps up books; can’t get enough of them.  He reads big, fat, complex books without pictures.  And, we can’t keep up with him.  We could have worse problems (as the librarian often tells us)  but it’s not easy to manage the content of his reading.  Because, given the option, his interests lie in the violent, unrealistic world of mythology and fantasy.  And, he refuses to read anything else.  Piles of books will go unread as he reads and rereads the same Percy Jackson book.

So, I took The Outsiders out from the library.  The book that changed my pre-teen years.  The book that I couldn’t put down, that I sat and cried through as I reached the end before school in Ms. Collins 4th grade classroom.  The book that taught me about empathy, and compassion, and how words can be beautiful.

And it sat there, at the foot of the stairs, for weeks.  Finally, I brought it to X’s room and said, “Listen, this book is important to me.  And, it’s violent and intense, and you can watch the movie when you’re done, and just try the first chapter.”  He begrudgingly closed the graphic novel he was reading, and said that he’d give it a try.

An hour later, I snuck upstairs and he was still reading under his covers well past his bedtime.  He was already leaving the drive-in, and I realized that I had to clarify some things.   I had to show him what a madras shirt looked like, and tell him they were “soshes” not “socks” and that things were going to happen that we’d need to discuss.

Two days later, he stuffed it in his bag to “finish it at school” and I felt like I had to warn him that I bawled at my desk when I was ten.  He left it at home.  The next day he asked me who my favorite character was.  And I asked him: what role each character took in the book; what would have changed if Johnny didn’t have the knife; what did people think about Greasers, was it true;  what did Johnny mean when he told Pony to “stay gold”.

And we talked about the power of writing.  Why it was important for Pony to write down his story.  And how writing can be a powerful, healing experience.

I hope Xavier never forgets these lessons, and he carries his love of reading throughout his life.  When things get hard, or scary, or confusing he can turn to the written word for knowledge and comfort.  That he can always see the sunsets, and that he always stays gold.