We are excited to welcome Fiona Ingram to the Reading Tub. In addition to being an award-winning author, Fiona is a literacy advocate with a personal passion for helping families connect children with books.
Over the next few weeks, Fiona will share some tips and resources for parents, but today she is sharing her personal journey to becoming a mom and helping her child learn to read.
The Rainbow Child and Her Paper Mom
Anyone who has read some of my articles will know that one of my passions in being a children’s author is child literacy. I can’t imagine any author not being concerned with literacy. Literacy is a skill that must be learned, and this simple skill can deliver a child from a life of drudgery to a life filled with opportunity. It all starts at home, where children should grow up surrounded by books, and with parents encouraging them to read and discover the wonderful world of books. That’s in an ideal world, of course.
The truth is that in many places around the world, “at home” for thousands of children offers no source of education when their parents are either still illiterate, or simply do not have the skills to assist their children with homework. Poverty also means that food comes before books. When South Africa (my home country) achieved democracy, Nelson Mandela called the country a ‘rainbow nation.’ Sadly, there aren’t many pots of gold at the end of the rainbow for a lot of children there. But one little girl, my rainbow child, has found her pot of gold. Here is the story of the rainbow child and her paper mom. I hope it will inspire others to help children read.
I never imagined myself as a mother. Growing up with four brothers, three of them younger than me, meant I had my fair share of bottles, diapers, homework, bedtime stories and all the things big sisters do. My studies and career came first for a long time and the men I dated weren’t interested in having kids. Then the biggest drawback of all: I never felt “grown-up enough” to take on the responsibility of my own child.
The year I went overseas with my two nephews, the year that inspired my first children’s book, (The Secret of the Sacred Scarab) I suddenly had this desire to adopt a child. Not give birth, please note, but adopt some little mite who needed a home. Two weeks in Egypt with my nephews aged 10 and 12 were enough to rid me of any maternal feelings and make me decide to just stick to being a good aunt. I had changed my mind about children.
About three months after this trip, I had a visit from a domestic worker who had worked for me a few years back—she had a problem. She arrived with her daughter Mabel, now aged eleven. I remembered Mabel as an enchanting child aged six, all arms and legs and a big smile. But I got married, Josephine left my employ, and we didn’t see each other for another five years. Josephine came straight to the point and asked me to foster Mabel, so she could get a better education.
Thinking for the briefest of nanoseconds that nothing would change, I said “yes.” Of course, everything changed. Mabel had already failed Grade 2, was advised to repeat Grade 4, and was basically illiterate. How is that possible? I asked myself. I began the slow and often painful task of teaching her all over again, supplemented by many extra lessons. It was not easy. Mabel was scoring only 19% for English at school. Opening the doors into the wonderful world of books seemed insurmountable because she simply did not understand the connection between the written and spoken word. What to do? Begin at the beginning seemed a good idea. Mabel baulked at first, never having had to apply her mind or develop motivation. She’d been told so many times she was a failure (stupid)—what else was there to look forward to? I rose to the challenge and, happily for her, so did Mabel.
I started off with my old favorites and Mabel loved them. Although we grew up poor (five children to feed, clothe, and educate), my parents always had books in the house. And then of course, there were the books we inherited from my grandparents. My very old copy of The Wind in the Willows, with those simple yet beautiful illustrations, is still on my bookshelf. Ratty and Mole were my heroes (and still are!). Other old friends are The Secret Garden, with exquisite colour plates, The Water Babies, Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series, my collection of the Lucy Fitch Perkins’ Twins series, with her poignant stories of children of all eras and places around the world. I particularly loved Anne of Avonlea, The Little Princess, and many others.
I began with the Twins’ series. Suddenly, the words were not frightening because Mabel was hearing about places and people she’d never imagined. She’d lean over my shoulder, breathing down my neck as I read, my finger tracing the words as I sounded them out. The pages began to surrender the magical words, and she found them enchanting! Fired with success, we moved on to the rest of the library, slowly devouring my children’s classic book collection in very tiny bite-sized pieces. I was still doing most of the reading.
One day, Mabel decided she’d help with the words, and began reading to me. It was still incredibly slow, but I began to see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. We got movies of books, watched them, and then read the books, just in case the movie makers had left out some important bits. We expanded our repertoire book by book. I found other ways to sneak words into her day, not just when we were doing serious reading. She read recipes with me when we baked; she read the instructions on the packaging to me while we prepared dinner; she read advertisements to me when we shopped. Suddenly words were a constant part of her life.
Mabel also began to show her imaginative side at school. Her poems and creative writing pieces began to change, reflecting more color, bigger words, more complex themes and emotions. Her first big word was “camouflage.” Sounds silly, but for Mabel it was a breakthrough! We still laugh about it. In all her subjects, her marks began to inch up. The final moment of success came when she turned to my mother and said, “Gran, will you buy me a book?”
My mother nearly fell off her chair and replied, “You can have as many as you like, darling.”
Mabel grinned. “Oh, then can you buy me all the Twilight books please?”
Mabel has developed more serious reading habits since Edward and Bella (phew!), listing Angela’s Ashes, To Kill a Mockingbird, and (Mary Shelley’s) Frankenstein, among her fave books.
I adopted Mabel in 2009 at the specific request of both her parents, thus becoming her “paper mom,” her mom on paper as she describes it. Mabel is in regular contact with her biological family and considers herself fortunate to have two families!
Copyright: Fiona Ingram. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
I am a children’s author, but up until a few years ago, I was a journalist and editor. Something rather unexpected sparked my new career as an author—a family trip to Egypt with my mother and two young nephews. We had a great time and I thought I’d write them a short story as a different kind of souvenir…. Well, one book and a planned book series later, I had changed careers.
I have now published Book 3 (The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper) in my middle grade adventure series Chronicles of the Stone, with many awards for the first book, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, several for Book 2, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, and Book 3! I also teach online novel writing for aspiring authors and I find that very satisfying.
Relaxation time finds me enjoying something creative or artistic, music, books, theatre or ballet. I love doing research for my book series. I love animals and have written two animal rescue stories. I have two adorable (naughty) little dogs called Chloe and Pumpkin, and a beautiful black cat called Bertie. My involvement with child literacy came about when I fostered and later adopted an underprivileged African child who was illiterate when she came to live with me at age eleven. It has been a fascinating journey.
WEBSITE & BLOG
- Book website: www.chroniclesofthestone.com
- Author Site: http://www.FionaIngram.com
- Blog: http://fionaingramauthor.blogspot.com