Captain Underpants

Success! Victor finally has Internet access and is going to town on the Reading Kingdom. He’s finishing up LetterLand, a beginning section of the program that teaches kids to master the keyboard so that they don’t have to hunt and peck for letters as the program advances.

“You know,” I said to him, as he emptied his backpack and I looked over his homework assignments, “If you do the program regularly and get through the WHOLE program, you’ll be reading at a third grade level.”

The kid went slack-jawed. “Are you serious?”

“Yep,” I said, “If you finish it.”

Victor was gleeful. “So if I finish it by the end of second grade, I’ll be reading like I’m in third grade, and when I’m in third grade I’ll be reading in fourth grade and maybe the teacher will skip me ahead?”

When he’s not feeling despondent and hopeless, Victor is as ambitious as any CEO of a fortune 500 company.

“I don’t know if she’ll skip you ahead, but you’ll be ahead in reading.”

I started to correct his math homework. “A lot of these are wrong.”

“That’s because I just put down any answer. The teacher doesn’t care as long as I do my homework.”

“Well you know I care.”

“I brought Captain Underpants,” Victor said, attempting to ignore my comment.

The Adventures of Captain Underpants is a comic and activity book that I gave to Victor last week because it contains a lot of mazes.

Victor flipped to a page and began to read a cartoon. He thought he was tricking me into delaying his math homework by reading the comic book. But this was a kid that until recently, didn’t willingly read anything. I didn’t want to stop him. We settled in and read page after page, held captive by the cliffhanger the author managed to insert at the end of each little segment

“Look what happens next,” I said, egging him on.

“Hold up, hold up,” he said.

He wanted to be the teller of the tale, the revealer of what comes next. I promised not to read ahead and to help him only with the words he needed.

At one point he turned the page, and daunted by all the text in front of him he wanted to stop. I suggested he take it panel by panel and that we count this as the 15 minutes of timed reading we do every session.

His eyes magnified. The idea that what he read for fun could count towards his requisite reading assignment was a revelation.

“Great idea,” he said brightly.

He completed the story. His confidence was contagious. We returned to his math homework, and after I helped him get started, he did the sheet correctly.

After the session, we went back to Victor’s apartment. While I spoke with his mother, he commandeered the computer, put on the headset to drown out the sounds of the television and other distractions and got back to a domain that he had some control over, a domain where he knew that his efforts would yield rewards and possibly even give him the tools not just to keep up, but to soar ahead, a domain he knows as the Reading Kingdom.