The above panel illustrates a typical response from Frances at bedtime. Instead of saying goodnight in return, her unique use of language — posing an unrelated question — is the norm. (She is six years old here.)

The following response is one of the most memorable: 

At the age of eight, she now will occasionally say, “OK.”

Shelter in books

My family and I like to reminisce about the camping trip during which we had sought shelter in a bookstore, first from an unbearably hot summer afternoon and then from a tornadic storm later that day.

I was not surprised by the fact that we ended up in a bookstore as we all love books in our family; yet, nobody in our home appreciates a book as much as Frances does.

I first noticed Frances’s fascination with books when she was about five months of age. As she approached toddlerhood, she would peruse them and turn pages in a manner suggestive of a preschool-age child. (To be clear, she was certainly not reading.)

Frances did not play with toys, and she paid attention to household objects and books only. She did not tolerate “tummy time” on the floor until she was eleven months of age, but once she did, she reached for books.

She constantly requested, by pushing books against my abdomen or arms, that books be read to her, from about 12 months of age. (At eight years, she will still grab my hands to put a book in them.)

At home, from about the age of 13 months or so, she would use books to make other things, such as towers, and I often found many dozens of books encircling the dining room table like a sidewalk or lined up side-by-side as she aged.

At the library, during every visit,  I would eventually have to ask her to go play because my throat would be hurting from reading at least 30 books. (Hard candies helped, too.)

At bedtime, for years, I would read more than ten books every night until recently.

Now, she also reads to me at bedtime, and as her tastes become more obvious to both of us, I’m getting to know her as a reader.

I have a wonderful opportunity to watch as the concept of a book gains dimension to her through reading, and I like to think that she, my ear-covering daughter, is still finding shelter there from a noisy world.

Decoding a culture

Frances’s questions are usually, but not always, delivered out of the blue or in rapid-fire style. 

There are times when her questions are kind of jolting in a personal way because they provide a glimpse of the ways in which she struggles from day to day. 

In this panel, at five years, she has trouble decoding culture-specific head movements to accept or to decline an invitation. (I had to be certain, of course, that she was not simply confusing the words shaking and nodding — she was not.)