Valentine’s day was last Thursday. I should have been planning a romantic candlight dinner with Thoughtful Husband. I should have been writing a love letter to my family. Instead, I was book hunting with my fourth grade son, Tom.
When I picked up Tom and Huck at school that day, Tom reminded me that he has a book report due in two weeks. This time, the book had to be in the adventure genre. Last time he did a book report, it had to be in the fantasy genre. Tom is a rather reluctant reader. He reads for homework, and occasionally for pleasure at bedtime, but he would always much rather be outside performing death-defying feats like tree-climbing, bike racing, and skateboarding:
I’ve tried to offer him book after book that I think he would enjoy to no avail. This is the child who, when he came to visit my booth at the recent San Francisco Antiquarian Book and Paper Fair, said, upon seeing thousands of amazing rare books: “This isn’t what I thought a book fair was. I thought it would be outside and that there would be rides. It’s just a lot of books.” Well . . . yes.
So, off we went after school to our local public library so he could find a title. “It has to be at least 150 pages, Mom,” he told me. I showed him several books.
“How about Tom Sawyer? Every kid should read this book.”
“No, Mom. That’s 227 pages.”
Heaven forbid the boy do any extra work. 😉 OK. What else can I offer? Perhaps something more contemporary.
“How about Inkspell?” (a bestseller for kids in his age group)
“No. Mom, it’s too long.”
When I married Thoughtful Husband years ago, I always thought Valentine’s would be a special day for the two of us. We would take long walks holding hands. We would have a quiet dinner for two. Roses and chocolate would be involved. Our darling, well-behaved children would be asleep and never interrupt us. (I was young and stupid then.) Trying to coerce my fourth grader into reading a book is not how I envisioned spending Valentine’s Day at all. At this rate, I’d be lucky to see Thoughtful Husband by midnight.
Finally, we saw a book shelved face-out. The cover had pictures of skateboarders. “Hey, Tom, what about this one?” I offered it gingerly, hoping against hope that it would be at least 150 pages.
He took it from my hand, looking first at the page count: over 200 of them.
“Read the flap on the dustjacket before you put it down,” I insisted. “You might decide it’s a story you want to read.” We needed to get out of there and get homework done. We also had to go to a pizza party for Thoughtful Husband’s cousin’s birthday (yes, on Valentine’s Day — again, not what my younger and stupider self had initially imagined doing on said day).
The book I handed him was Getting Air by Dan Gutman. Here, in a nutshell, is the synopsis:
Grade 4–6—Thirteen-year-old Jimmy, his little sister Julia, and his two best friends embark on a cross-country flight to stay with family in California, where the boys hope to get sponsorship for their skateboarding club. Jimmy helps an elderly knitter with her bag, and learns she is part of a group who is traveling to a knitting convention. When terrorists charge the cockpit and take over the plane, the boys leap into action, killing the hijackers with the help of the women and their knitting needles. They then discover that the pilots are dead and that the plane is out of fuel, and when they crash, the real story begins—survival in the deep forest. It may be highly improbable that the only survivors are the kids, the elderly knitter, and the flight attendant, but the tale remains enjoyable as the silly banter is preserved and the can-do attitude of the youngsters is easy to appreciate. The boys learn from the two adults and Julia, whose girl-scout knowledge gains everyone’s admiration, and they make it seem like almost dying in a fiery plane crash can be kind of fun. A true adventure book, with high-spirited and fundamentally good boys as the central characters, Getting Air should find a wide audience.—John Leighton, Brooklyn Public Library, NY
It’s not something I would have picked myself, but I think that it certainly falls in the adventure category.
“Mom. Let’s get this. This is all about skateboarders.”
“But, Tom, it’s more than 150 pages. Are you sure you can finish it without me reminding you to read it every day?”
“Mom. We. Have. To. Get. This. One. Skateboarders!”
We checked out the book. Tom started reading it when we got home from the library. He was still reading it at the pizza party for Thoughtful Husband’s cousin’s birthday. He barely spoke to anyone because he was so enthralled by the story. I am the only mother in the world who would praise her son’s antisocial behavior at a party because at last he was reading. READING! And even able to tune out the ruckus around him. Who knew this child could focus like this? Not me.
Tom was still reading on the drive home and in bed last night. When he turned out his light, he said to me the words every book-loving, former-English-teaching, antiquarian-bookselling mother wants to hear:
“Mom. This book is so good that I don’t even want to watch tv or play video games. I just have to finish this book.”
Despite the unconventional way of celebrating the day, I went to bed feeling like I had just received the best Valentine in the world.
I checked Tom’s book mark Friday morning when I put the book in his backpack to take to school. He was already on page 93.
Though I’d have preferred Tom Sawyer, I’m willing to accept plane-crash-surviving-skateboarders. It’s a start.
See you in the stacks!