Today I’m sharing an excerpt from the 1991 Newbery Medal winning Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. In this portion, Maniac is teaching an old, washed-up baseball player how to read. I love the extended metaphors Spinelli uses. This is my favorite part of the book.
The old man showed an early knack for consonants. Sometimes he got m and n mixed up, but the only one that gave him trouble day in and day out was c. It reminded him of a bronc some cowboy dared him to ride in Texas League days. He would saddle up that c, climb aboard and grip the pommel for dear life, and ol’ c, more often than not, it would throw him. Whenever that happened, he’d just climb right back on and ride ‘er some more. Pretty soon c saw who was boss and gave up the fight. But even at their orneriest, consonants were fun.
Vowels were something else. He didn’t like them, and they didn’t like him. There were only five of them, but they seemed to be everywhere. Why, you could go through twenty words without bumping into some of the shyer consonants, but it seemed as if you couldn’t tiptoe past a syllable without waking up a vowel. Consonants, you knew pretty much where they stood, but you could never trust a vowel. To the old pitcher, they were like his own best knuckleball come back to haunt him. In, out, up, down–not even the pitcher, much less the batter, knew which way it would break. He kept swinging and missing.
But the kid was a good manager, and tough. He would never let him slink back to the showers, but kept sending him back up to the plate. The kid used different words, but in his ears the old Minor Leaguer heard: “Keep your eye on it. . . Hold you swing. . . Watch it all the day in. . .Don’t be anxious. . . Just make contact.”
And soon enough, that’s what he was doing, nailing those vowels on the button, riding them from consonant to consonant, syllable to syllable, word to word.
One day the kid wrote on the blackboard:
I see the ball.
And the old man studied awhile and said, slowly, gingerly: “I. . .see. . .the. . .ball.”
Maniac whooped, “You’re reading!”
“I’m reading!” yipped the old man. His smile was so wide he’d have had to break it into sections to fit it through a doorway. (101-102)
One of the greatest joys in my life has been teaching my girls to read, and I look forward to completing that same joyous journey with the DLM in the next year or so. I can’t imagine the excitement and satisfaction I would experience from teaching an adult to read! I sometimes imagine what my “retirement” from homeschooling will look like, and one of the things I envision doing some day is working with a local literacy agency in teaching adult reading classes. Maybe one day I’ll get to experience this.