In most cases I read them out loud to her, and then spend the next few minutes trying to simplify and define words/sentences so that she can understand what's going on in the story. I have never been so thankful for my English degree, nor so challenged to clarify words that I take for granted. Throw in another culture and era (like Sherlock Holmes' London), and you can begin to see why it took us over a month to get through a short story like the Baskervilles.
In addition to Sherlock Holmes, we've also read The Giver (another challenging book to explain to her - more the concepts than the vocabulary - fortunately, I'd read it before and enjoyed it), and most recently the young readers version of I Am Malala.
This was actually a book that had been on my radar for a while (at least, the adult version of the book), but I had never gotten around to picking up a copy. Turns out, all I needed to do was go adopt a 13 year old and go through 7th grade literature class with her! Once again, it was challenging to explain the background of this book - our kids were pretty sheltered in their home country and didn't know anything, really, about the rest of the world. From telling her what happened on 9/11 to explaining the Taliban and clarifying what war was (no joke), this book was as much a history lesson for her as it was about the vocabulary.
As for the story of Malala - I was, perhaps, more sucked in than my daughter. Malala was an incredibly brave young woman, but I also appreciated how she never tried to make herself more than she was. She shared the normal sibling rivalries that she had with her two brothers, the complicated friendships that she had with her fellow female students, her love of certain tween television shows, and her worries about staying first in her class.
Throughout the book I kept reminding myself that this was a real person and not a story, because what she was able (and willing) to do at such a young age is truly remarkable. Standing up to the Taliban, even though she knew she could be killed, continuing to go to school, even in the face of known danger, and becoming a voice for young girls and women in the Middle East are just a few of her many accomplishments. I also appreciated her openness about the difficulties she faced as she and her family started their lives over in the United Kingdom, her realizations of the difference in education standards, and her drive to do more for girls all over the world who have limited educational opportunities.
As a side note, while Malala was - and is - an incredible young woman, the person who interested me the most in her story ended up being her father. An educator who believed that schools should be open to both males and females, he was a revolutionary in his own country. Pushing the cultural boundaries, encouraging his daughter to stand up for what she believed in, and fighting against the powerful Taliban leaders - Ziauddin Yousafzai is a unique man in his own right.
And that's what's been on my daughter's nightstand... how about you?
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A reminder: there are more than 400,000 words in the English language, please use them wisely.