It was dark, too dark to be out on a walk with a toddler. We had been in search of a playground and it was just a day or two after the daylight savings time change.
I had misjudged both the time and the distance. It was past dinnertime and I was tired, my baby cranky.
I noticed a giant branch blocking the entire sidewalk. In a last ditch attempt to transform the mood from torturous to lighthearted and fun, I called out, “A branch! Oh no! Can’t go over it! Can’t go under it! Got to go around it!” as I steered the stroller into the grass
I held my breath so I could listen: Would she understand my reference to “Going on a Bear Hunt”? I heard a giggle from the stroller. She had recognized the story and understood my joke. “Baby’s first literary reference,” I thought.
During my first year of teaching, I learned to help struggling readers understand texts more fully by thinking of ways to relate the story to their own lives: “text to self.”
When my 19-year-old girl was two, I knew nothing of comprehension strategies. But I knew there was something special about connecting to a book.
When my parents got her a tiny umbrella just her size, “Oh good!” she exclaimed, “Now I can take a ride!” We looked at her quizzically. “Take a ride?”
“Yes,” she assured us. “Now I have an umbrella. I can ride.” My parents and I argued, “You don’t ride in umbrella! You use it to stay dry!” But she knew better. “No,” she insisted confidently. “You ride inside it and you float!”
We laughed at her, chalking it up to toddler confusion.
She stormed off, only to return moments later carrying “The Blustery Day,” open to a page showing Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin using an upturned umbrella as a boat. “See,” she shouted, pounding the picture with her pudgy toddler finger, “See? You ride in an umbrella!”
This time we had to agree. Obviously umbrellas were for rides. “She’s going to be an academic” decided my dad.
She turned out to be an art major. Still, “text to self” connections have served her well. She pored through stories, internalized them, and made them her own. Seventeen years later, I’m happy knowing my toddler is on the path to having great experiences with books.