I used to be an English teacher, and I remember one of the more popular concepts we tried to push on our students all the time was the idea of "making connections" with the content they would read. The three big types of connections we talked about were text-to-text connections, text-to-self connections, and text-to-world connections (I have this vague memory of giving each of my students a packet of sticky notes with three different colors, and they had to comment in their books with the sticky notes using these three types of connections. I'm sure my students loved doing that).
Okay, enough of the teachery explanations. Fast forward four years, and here I am a stay-at-home-mom with a bustling little 21 month old toddler. We have this ritual where every morning after breakfast, he gets to pull every single book off his shelf and we read all of them together. So the other day, we were in the middle of one of our favorite books (Jamberry) when my son stopped me on one of the pages where the characters are climbing out of a river, pointed, and emphatically said "Wa-wa!" (translation: water). Now, my son has been identifying common objects in books like this for months now, so I wasn't terribly impressed. I probably said something like, "Yep, that's water. How funny that they are all wet!" and then tried to move on with the story. However, my son thwarted all my efforts to finish the book. He kept turning the pages back, and I was getting a bit frustrated (usually he loves moving on to the part about the "thoo-thoos" or choo-choo trains).
Finally my boy jumped off my lap and ran to grab a new book. This time he came back with one from our Corduroy Treasury. We got no further than two pages into this one before he stopped on the scene where Corduroy is going water skiing (does anyone else think it's ridiculous that this teddy bear is going water skiing?) and once again said "Wa-wa!" My thoughts were along the lines of yes, great, you can identify water, let's move on now. But then he snatched the Corduroy book out of my hands, picked up the Jamberry book again and began rifling through those pages. I thought maybe he wanted to continue reading that book, so I tried to pick up where we had left off, but once again, he kept turning the pages back. I finally said something like, "Okay, if you don't want me to read to you, then you can sit here and play with the books by yourself."
I stood up to go take care of the breakfast dishes. A few minutes later my boy came over holding both books open to the pages he had been stuck on, and proudly held them up to me saying, "Wa-wa! Wa-wa!" And that's when it finally clicked. My son had just made his very first text-to-text connection. He had seen the water in one book, remembered the water from the other book, and put them both together. And he was so excited about this discovery. You guys, this was huge. My little English teacher heart got all fluttery, nearly bursting with pride. I mean, this is genius, is it not?
Okay, yeah, probably not. But still. It just warms the cockles of my heart to see my child interacting with books like this. I hope and pray that I can keep him this excited about books in the years to come. The world needs more men who read, and not just read, but think deeply about what they read. I fully intend to raise my son to be a reader. I think we're off to a good start.