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Guest Blogger Fiona Ingram: The Wonderful World of Words

Today I'd like to welcome guest blogger Fiona Ingram, author of The Secret of the Sacred Scarab. When she e-mailed me about guest blogging, I was really eager to post this story about her daughter Mabel. I thought it would be a nice change from all the informative posts around here, and the story really touched me.

The Wonderful World of Words and One Child’s Journey There

I don’t remember actually learning to read; it’s as if I always did. Although we grew up poor (five children to feed, clothe, and educate), my parents always had books in the house. And then of course, there were the books we inherited from my grandparents. My very old copy of The Wind in the Willows, with those simple yet beautiful illustrations, is still on my bookshelf. Ratty and Mole were my heroes (and still are!). Other old friends are The Secret Garden, with exquisite color plates, The Water Babies, Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series, my collection of the Lucy Fitch Perkins’ twin series, with her poignant stories of children of all eras and places around the world. I particularly loved Anne of Avonlea, The Little Princess, and many others.

The list of children’s classics is endless and not so long ago I read them all over again. I ‘inherited’ an African foster child from a disadvantaged background. This little girl came to me at age eleven, practically illiterate, scoring only 19% for English at school. Opening the doors into the wonderful world of books seemed insurmountable because she simply did not understand the connection between the written and spoken word. What to do? Begin at the beginning seemed a good idea.

I started off with my old favorites and Mabel loved them. Suddenly, the words were not frightening because she was hearing about places and people she’d never imagined. She’d lean over my shoulder, breathing down my neck as I read, my finger tracing the words as I sounded them out. The pages began to surrender the magical words, and she found them enchanting! Fired with success, we moved onto the rest of the library, slowly devouring my children’s classic book collection in very tiny bite-sized pieces. I was still doing most of the reading.

One day, Mabel decided she’d help out with the words, and began reading to me. It was still incredibly slow but I began to see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. We got movies of books, watched them, and then read the books, just in case the moviemakers had left out some important bits. We expanded our repertoire book by book. I found other ways to sneak words into her day, not just when we were doing ‘serious’ reading. She read recipes with me when we baked; she read the instructions on the packaging to me while we prepared dinner; she read advertisements to me when we shopped. Suddenly words were a constant part of her life.

Mabel also began to show her imaginative side at school. Her poems and creative writing pieces began to change, reflecting more color, bigger words, more complex themes and emotions. What a breakthrough! The final moment of success came when just recently she turned to my mother and said, “Gran, will you buy me a book?”

My mother nearly fell off her chair and replied, “You can have as many as you like, darling.”

Mabel grinned. “Oh, then can you buy me all the Twilight books please?”

Thank you Stephenie Meyer for being the first author Mabel ‘owns.’ (Apparently vampires rock.)

Her latest ‘own’ books? Inkheart, and The Golden Compass.

Her latest marks for English? A magnificent 75%.

“I can do much better,” she said, frowning. “I’m going to have to improve on this if I want to be a writer.”

I have now adopted Mabel legally, not having my own children, and I can say the greatest compliment is that she has decided to become a journalist or a novelist (just like me).

Recently I called her and, hearing her voice coming from her bedroom, asked, “What are you doing?”

Reply: “I’m reading!”

Music to any parent’s ears!

About the Author: Fiona Ingram was born and educated in South Africa. Her interest in ancient history, mystery, and legends, and her enjoyment of travel has resulted in The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, the first in her exciting children’s adventure series—Chronicles of the Stone. The first book was inspired by an actual trip the author took to Egypt with her two young nephews (then aged 10 and 12).


Beth said...

What a beautiful story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. It would be such an honor if someday a child felt that strong a connection with one of my books. It's inspiring to be reminded of the power of the written word. You and Mabel are very lucky to have each other!

Laura said...

This is such a profound lesson about the power of books. That is an incredible metamorphoses. It's hard to imagine anything more satisfying than being there to see it happen.

Natalie Aguirre said...

What a great story. I'm an adoptive mom too--of a daughter from China. That is just such a beautiful story of being a parent. Thanks for sharing it.

Fiona Ingram said...

Hi everyone, Thank you for such positive and warm comments. Mabel reminds me on a daily basis how fortunate we all are to have grown up with books. She is still catching up and loving everything she reads. Her next big step at school is Shakespeare so we'll be tackling that together.

Samantha Clark said...

That's a great story, Fiona. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for hosting Casey. It's so wonderful to see the power of books.

Also, I don't mean to sound like a commercial, but Fiona did a great guest post on my blog about creating a children's book series: http://daybydaywriter.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/creating-a-book-series/

Vonna said...

This was so wonderful that I am moving the Secret of the Sacred Scarab to the top of my reading list!