I couldn't read the word "the"

I don’t know what I was thinking. When I asked my sister to write this blog with me, I didn’t expect every entry to be an attempt to embarrass or humiliate me.

This entry is posted over on our brother-sister blog, but it seemed especially fitting to post it here as well, since it pertains to my life as a reader.  ____________________________________________________

When Matt first started kindergarten, I thought he was the luckiest person alive. He got new clothes, he got to ride on a big bus, and he was allowed to leave the house for a few hours without Mom.

Jeremy and I were so jealous. In our eyes he was a man of the world.

We would wait anxiously for him to return, watching in the picture window for the bus to pull up. He would walk up our driveway everyday, backpack strapped to his back, holding Mom's hand. When he came in, he would sit at the table and have Mom's undivided attention.

I thought he was so lucky, until this one day.

In kindergarten in Blackstone (back in 1976, at least), the first book you were given to read was called Sun Up. The beginning of the book reads:

The sun was up. Bing was up. Sandy was up. Bing and Sandy was up.

Clearly the author of the book cared more about learning to read than grammar.

Matt took the yellow and orange book out of his backpack and showed Mom. She told him to read for her. He looked at the cover of the book and read the title.

"Sun Up," he said.

Mom was so proud.

I was so jealous. He was reading words from a book. Real words. Not just making them up. He knew what the words really said.

He opened to book to the first page. He was so confident because he had just read the title with ease. The first word was the.

Matt looked at the word and said "ta-ha-eee".

Mom had to tell him the word was the.

He corrected himself and continued reading. Soon enough the word the came up again. Again Matt said "ta-ha-eeee".

I could hear the frustration in Mom's voice. The word came up several more times on those first few pages, but not once could he read the word correctly.

Finally Mom told him it was time to take a break. I think it was all she could do to keep from strangling him.

My brother, the published writer, struggled and struggled with the word the.

When it was my turn to go to kindergarten and read Sun Up, I never stumbled on the word.

I guess I have my brother to thank for that.


A few comments regarding my sister’s post:

  • I also remember Sun Up and could have recited the first page from memory as well.
  • I also recall the grammatical issue in the fourth sentence and have never quite understood why it was allowed to stand.
  • I tried to find an image of the cover of Sun Up online but was unsuccessful.  I did, however, locate many academic papers which reference the book as one of the more popular of the basal readers of the 1970’s.
  • Apparently the book lacked racial diversity and sucked in terms of providing children with quality reading material. It also appears to have been reprinted well into the 1980’s, with the characters of Bing and Sandy replaced by Buffy and Mack.

sun up

  • I also recall struggling to read the word the, and I struggled with it for quite a while (though in the mind of a kindergartner, that could have been a day or two). I can also distinctly remember the moment when I read it correctly for the first time and it finally made sense. A big moment in my then brief existence.
  • I find it amazing that I was sent off to kindergarten unable to read a single word and was never read to as a child. As a father, this fact becomes more incomprehensible by the day. Honestly, what the hell was my mother doing?
  • It was good to learn from my sister that my mom would meet me at the bus stop and hold my hand as we walked up driveway. I have no memories of this, and I have very few memories of these mother-son moments from my childhood. As we got older, the amount of parenting that we received declined sharply.  These kindergarten moments with my mom may have represented a watershed for me in terms of parental involvement. It’s a happy picture that my sister has painted for me.