Monday, July 11, 2011

The kid who never gets bored (of dinosaurs)

The famed tome
My 6 year old is in love with dinosaurs thanks to a book that is kind of like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for kids who love dinosaurs. Our copy of The Complete Book of Dinosaurs has a crumbling spine and the pages are more tape than original paper, but he still loves to go through the book page by page and discuss each dinosaur carefully.

When he was younger, we would have to set limits on how many pages we could look at each evening or else we would spend a good hour at bedtime examining every dinosaur. His favorite activity was to repeatedly determine which dinosaur on the two-page spread was the largest. He quickly memorized the answers even though his conceptual understanding of meters was pretty flimsy.

As we headed out on vacation last week, I asked all the boys to select books they wanted to read at the beach, and for some reason I was actually surprised when M, the 6 year old, chose The Complete Book of Dinosaurs. It just didn't seem like beach reading to me, but he refused my other suggestions (probably just because I had made them).

It's a hard-knock life as dinosaur dinner
I know toddlers love hearing the same books over and over again as they acquire language skills, and I have been known to read my favorite books many, many times. Many times. Trevor Cairney wrote an interesting blog post over a year ago about the benefits of re-reading favorite literature and cited an even older New York Times article exploring the same behavior. The highlights of why we re-read are here:

  • We desire a repeat of the pleasure that we've just had.
  • With repetition the task of reading becomes simpler and faster due to the familiarity of characters, plot and language.
  • The reader/listener can see new things when freed from the restraints of the new or the novel.
  • Re-reading offers the opportunity to reflect on and savour the language, the richness of the characters and the events that these characters have experienced.
  • Repetition creates 'more space' to engage at the personal level and become 'lost' in rich intertextual experiences as they relate the events of the book with those in their own lives, and other books, films and television that they have experienced. 

But the book M chose is an encyclopedic volume, kind of like the phone book: lots of characters but no real plot. What is the appeal? I believe, in this case, it reveals more about my son's personality as A Collector, not really connected to the enjoyment of familiar literature.

Bird-hipped dinosaurs, in case you weren't sure.

Later, when riding in our van with his cousin, of the same age and similar affection for prehistoric reptiles, I watched the two of them pore over the pages of dinos and excitedly point out unique features like diet, size and whether they were bird-hipped (Ornithischian) or lizard-hipped (Saurischian). Kind of like choosing between a one-piece or a two-piece, I guess.