Maddi’s Fridge has just won the International Literacy Association’s Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Award for Primary Fiction.
A picture book is a collaborative effort. In addition to myself, Maddi’s Fridge is the result of the hard work and exceptional talents of illustrator Vin Vogel and our editor, Shari Dash Greenspan.
The ILA award is especially meaningful to me because I did not learn how to read until late in 3rd grade.
I vividly remember the day that my 3rd grade teacher discovered I’d been faking reading. She yelled at me that I was lazy. Over the next few days she got quieter, which was dangerous. She decided that something was wrong with me.
I knew my alphabet forward and backwards. I could easily sound out words and could read out loud like the other kids in class. But when I read, the words didn’t connect to form any meaning.
Rabbit horrible laughed widget coffee.
Imagine that everyone in the world except for you reads the above words and gets a clear and meaningful sentence. I could not read and get meaning. Even words that I knew became gibberish in my head and sentences never came together.
My 3rd grade teacher kicked me out of her class and transferred me to the ‘dummy class.’
The five of us sat in a row at the front of a large empty classroom. We didn’t have a teacher; we had a district employee. My fellow classmates and I were given worksheets and math problems that looked like they came from 1st grade. Before I had been removed from my class I was in advanced math. Now I was adding single digits.
Our vocabulary words were single-syllable. Our texts were Dick and Jane type mimeographs that made me despise books and reading even more.
A tubby boy with freckles and messy blond hair, who I’d seen on the playground but never talked to, leaned towards me. “You don’t belong in the dummy class. You’re smart.”
During recess my close friends commiserated with me for the first few days, but the rest of my former classmates drifted to other parts of the playground. No one played with the kids from the dummy class.
Fortunately for me, my mother was a Tiger Mom long before the term existed. She wanted my 3rd grade teacher to tutor me. I refused. I suspect the teacher refused too. By now I hated that woman. My mother then asked a friend of the family who taught kindergarten to tutor me after school. I agreed. I’d loved kindergarten and kindergarten teachers: no reading and lots of art projects.
I don’t remember how long I was in the dummy class, maybe a few weeks or months. It was long enough for all of my former friends to start snubbing me on the playground.
I do remember the day that my mother busted me out. I was making progress with my tutor, and Mom struck some sort of deal with my 3rd grade teacher. On a Friday the district employee announced to the five of us that I was being moved back to regular classes. The tubby kid with freckles and messy blond hair told me “I knew you were better than we were.”
Even as an eight-year-old I paused and looked back at him as we filed out of class. He hadn’t struck me as particularly stupid. I remember wondering what it would be like to be stuck in the dummy class forever.
I left the class thinking that I would play with my new friends at recess, but over the next week or so I drifted back to my original friends and classmates.
When people fantasize about time travel they often talk about stopping an assassination or, conversely, assassinating a bad guy, etc.
I’d go back to my elementary school dummy class. I’d give the tubby kid and every kid in there a hug and tell them that no one is a dummy. That children learn at different speeds and that the speed we learn at is natural and right for us.
Time travel is not possible, but our world has changed for the better. The over 300,000 members of the International Literacy Association are performing little miracles every day as they guide reluctant readers into the transformative world of books.
I thank them with all of my heart for this wonderful award.
I can only hope that the fellow members of my dummy class somehow made it into the world of books. I know they had help. My mom went back to school and got her teaching credential. She became one of the first special education teachers our district ever hired.