Troubling conversation at the airport bookstore

I’m in one of the airport bookstores, picking up a bottle of water and a candy bar in case the plane I’m heading to next gets sidelined on the tarmac for hours (it could happen) ─ and I require sustenance to cope when/if that occurs (it could happen). I’m also trying to decide which junky magazines to pick up so I have lots of pictures to while away the time … on the proverbial tarmac of life.

A young woman is nearby with two daughters in tow. One girl looks to be about 10 or 11, the other 5ish. The younger girl is asking for books and pulling a book off of the revolving bookcase right near the shelves of candy.

“I’m not buying you any books,” the mom says, “not until you can read!” 

The girl protests, “I want to get a book!”

“I’m not buying you any books until you can read,” the mom explains again. “First you have to learn phonics and then sounding out words,” she says loudly. “You can’t have any books ─ you can’t read yet!” 

I look at the family more closely. The older daughter is unreactive, nonplussed. The younger girl is upset. The mom is resolute. She pulls both girls away from the revolving bookcase and heads out into the December airport crowds.  

I’m mystified that this mom may actually believe that her daughter first has to study phonics and then sounding out words before she can have a book. The girl, no doubt, is clueless about what “phonics” means.   

I wanted so to intercede and tell the mom that it would be fine to get a book, any book, for her daughter ─ and share some insights about learning to read. But I didn’t think that was a wise option in the airport bookstore early this morning.  I wish I had brought along in my bag one of the Z House Story books, which I often do to leave on benches in the airport or in offices I may be visiting. I gladly would have given a book to the daughter so she could at least have looked at the pictures and had a book of her own to hold in her hands.

Unfortunately, I’m continuing to hear this mom’s misguided voice repeating now in my head: “You can’t read, you can’t read – you’re not ready for a book.” So, am making a mental note to take some books with me for the next trip we might meet again (it could happen). 

Meanwhile I’m grateful ─ armed with a bottle of water, candy bar and magazines with lots of pictures to while away the time. But rueful that I couldn’t help this little girl even a bit to enter the world of reading ─ and help her mom. 

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