29 July 2011


Tutor Tales, Volume 32

Do you know what really frustrates me at work? Seeing that the children who need all that extra help with their schoolwork have virtually nothing to read at home.

A couple of days ago, while looking over Scrap Metal's assignment notebook, I was reminded that one of his July projects in Reading class was an oral book report. Since I hadn't heard anything about it since the start of the month, I asked him whether he had prepared for it himself.

"Oh, yeah! The oral book report!" he said, slapping his forehead. "That's for tomorrow."

"Tomorrow???" I squeaked. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"

His eyes widened and his shoulders hunched up: a common defensive gesture which makes many seven year olds too cute to kill.

"Well, what book were you planning to do your report on?"

"I don't know. I don't have many books."

Didn't I know it?

It took me a few seconds to appraise his shelves, which were tucked neatly out of sight in the same cabinet used for the wide-screen television and game console. (No bloody comment.) Ninety-nine percent of what he had were his dogeared coursebooks and activity books from last school year and the preparatory level before that. There was exactly one book that hadn't been written for some explicitly academic purpose--and sure enough, it had last year's "Book Swap" sticker on it.

The Book Swap was an inspired idea from Scrap Metal's first grade Reading teacher. She told her students to bring one book each to class at the start of the year, which they would then exchange with someone else. There were a total of four swaps scheduled over the school year, the objective being to get each child to read four books he might otherwise never have tried. And even parents who don't see much need for leisure reading can be happy about getting, in one sense, four books for the price of one.

"It looks as if you'll have to make your report about this one," I said, pulling it out.

His face looked a bit pinched, but he nodded. "Can we remove the Book Swap sticker first, so my teacher doesn't know it's from last year?"

"Of course, Scrappy. No problem."

For the next few minutes, we sat opposite each other at his study table, with the book like a wall between us, so that he could scratch away at the tell-tale sticker and I could read the story.

It wasn't much of a story. =/

Do you know those books that you can get customised as presents for children? Whoever prints them will put any name you ask for the main character and allow for the personalisation of other elements. Well, someone in Canada got such a book special ordered for some boy named David, who ended up selling it or giving it away so that the supplier of the biggest used books retailer in the Philippines was able to ship it over, at which point it ended up in one of the bargain bins for a Filipino parent who buys books in bulk to find. And then that parent's child tossed it into the Book Swap pool last year, where my tutee found it.

So it's no surprise that the story was pretty silly. At least the illustrations were bright and it had some great pop-up effects and interactive elements. What a sad deal for a boy's only book, though.

Before I left, we were able to prepare a short report and rehearse it.

I'll have to think about getting him some quality books on my own.


Syrin said...

I can't even imagine growing up without books. We had Dr. Seuss and Little Golden Books all over the place when we were young, and we progressively moved up to harder stuff as we aged. I guess if its not something in particular the kids are asking for, the parents don't buy it? How sad.

Enbrethiliel said...


That's it exactly. His parents think that the reading he does in school is all he needs (which it isn't), and since they're not big readers themselves, they assume that if he doesn't ask for books, he wouldn't enjoy them. =(

The Mike said...

Even I, who only reads cooking instructions on canned foods, think that's sad. Kids gotta read so they can become smart enough to enjoy good movies when they grow up. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for another great point that I forgot to mention! =)

Laurie said...

Syrin - There's ample research to show that the amount of age-appropriate reading material available to kids in their homes has a significant impact on their overall literacy and hence their academic success. And, in turn, there's ample research to show the effects of academic achievement on individuals' chances for a prosperous life. I'm not much for equating monetary gain with personal success, but I will say that - in my own experience - with academic advancement comes opportunity, in most cases.
So, E: A dearth of books can perhaps correlate not only with a lack of appreciation for popular cinema (nod to Mike), but also to decreased academic achievement, hence perhaps fewer choices in life. So if there's some way to encourage young Scrappy's parents to purchase a few more age-appropriate and Scrappy-centric books, they're all likely to be much more satisfied in the long run...

Nikki-ann said...

That's sad. I never had a shortage of books when I was a kid. If I hadn't got any new (to me) books then I'd re-read one I'd already read before. If school had any kind of book sale then I'd ask for a book or two (and my parents were always obliging when it came to books).

Bob Wallace said...

Seven year olds may be too cute to kill but they're never too cute to beat like a gong!

Sullivan McPig said...

I can't imagine growing up without books. My grandmother and mother took me to the library every week from the moment I understood what a book was and I loved books so much I asked for books as present on my birthday.
I still have most of those books, although some have been read so often they're falling apart by now.

Enbrethiliel said...


Laurie -- I agree! The next time I meet his father, I'll definitely bring it up. =)

Nikki-ann -- It was the same for me growing up. If anything, I had a surplus of books because my mother and several aunts and uncles had kept books they had read in childhood and passed them on to me! I was a big rereader, too. =)

Bob -- Ahem!

Sully -- I've kept a lot of books from my childhood as well. Several of them have covers that are "falling off their hinges," if you know what I mean. Your grandmother and mother sound wonderful!

Sullivan McPig said...

My grandmother was my hero when I was growing up. When I was in my teens she started to recommend books to me and we loved talking about those books together. When she died I inherited some of her books and I treasure those I can tell you.

My mother is still an avid reader and as we have a similar taste mostly we often lend each other books and we buy each other books for our birthday.

So yeah, two very amazing women.

Enbrethiliel said...


It's not enough to recommend good books. One must have a "recommendee" who is willing to try them. So I'm sure your grandmother was as happy to have you as her grandchild as you were to have known her. I'm so sorry she's gone, but I'm glad you have her books to remember her by.