My son and I have been reading classic boys adventure novels. You know, Treasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines, Journey to the Centre of the Earth . . . It started because I noticed that the most complex thing he seems to read these days is comics like Calvin and Hobbes and TinTin. These are certainly classics in their own right, and I’m glad he appreciates them. But they aren’t really the stuff of vocabulary building or critical thought development. Especially after the tenth or twentieth reading.
I hate to be a dad, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
Selfishly, I also wanted a good excuse to read these books because I skipped most of them when I was his age. It might be more truthful to say that no one forced me to read them. Regardless, like most new experiences, I wanted to expose Kazu to them. He could take or leave them. But he would do so knowingly rather than just dismissing them because they were different.
So I started the New Experience for Kazu dance: I suggest something; he groans and says it sounds boring; I drag him into it anyway. Sometimes it works (sailing); sometimes it bombs (sushi). We always read in the evening before bed. At that point, Kazu is usually tired enough that he will tolerate even a boring book, so long as someone reads it to him. So I thought I’d try it out.
“I was thinking we could read a pirate novel.”
“No, thank you.”
“It’s like Pirates of the Caribbean. You like those movies.”
“Yeah, but that’s different, Dad. They’re funny.”
“Maybe this book is funny.”
“What’s it called?”
“Let’s try it and see.”
“Too late. I already downloaded it. Let’s check it out.”
“Let’s not and say we did.”
Over his objections, I read the first chapter to him that evening. It wasn’t a total bomb, so we continued. A few nights later we reached a particularly suspenseful scene: the one when after ransacking the inn for Billy Bones’s treasure map, blind Pew and the rest of the crew nearly find Jim Hawkins and his mom hiding in a culvert. Kazu clutched my leg in anticipation while he read over my shoulder.
It was so rewarding to see him feel that apprehensive about the characters in that boring old book. Not because I could say, “I told you so.” But because at a time when kids’ entertainment is so fast-paced, so over-the-top in terms of plot and pacing and effects, so quick to make every character hip, it was good to know that Stevenson’s writing still packed a punch, so to speak. It was rewarding to find a book I could enjoy on something close to the same level as my son.
As we read, we’d stop to look up new words, talk about the structure of the book, and (something missing entirely from comics) how the characters changed or developed. Sort of a mini-book club with just the two of us.
As we neared the end, we watched a couple of movie versions of Treasure Island: the 1950 Disney version (with the ur-cinematic pirate Robert Newton as Long John Silver) and a BBC mini-series made a few years ago (with Eddie Izzard in the same role and a heavily painted Elijah Wood as the cheese-craving castaway Ben Gunn). We talked about changes the directors made to the plot, whether the characters sounded and looked as we had imagined. (We have yet to compare the Muppets’ Treasure Island to Disney’s, but we’re looking forward to that one.