Tuesday, 23 August 2016

A New Hope

Matt is growing up faster than Jack's beanstalk and time is flying faster than HP playing Quidditch. We have had school taster days, hairs on legs (one of us finds this exciting, one of us is used to this phenomenon), complex mathematical questions (9 plus 9 plus 9) and some not so complex questions (is a chicken a vegetable?). Oh yes, we are nearly five. As such, Matt's interests are developing, his needs are changing, and our lives are continually evolving in response. 

There are three new invasions in our lives. Lego, Foo Fighters ('Food Fighters' to the boy), and Star Wars have taken over. Big time. Sometimes we have combinations of these to contend with. Obvs we have Star Wars Lego to incorporate two of the said interests. I always get asked to be Chewbacca. No idea why. But we do also have other interesting cross-overs too. 

For example, Rock Concert Lego:
Please admire my handiwork - how many of you have been asked to create Foo Fighters out of Lego? Taylor is actually sitting at a drum kit. Unfortunately my creative skills did not stretch to guitars but Matt posed their arms in position. 

Spot the Star Wars Super Foo Fan

How about Star Wars football? Yup, even our usual hobbies have had to accommodate the new regime. If you have played football with Luke Skywalker you will know exactly where I am coming from. If you haven't, do come over one afternoon. (This is a whimsical invitation. Do not come over.) 

The agility of a Jedi
So, I am embracing these obsessions. To be fair, I have embraced all the others too: diggers, tractors, horses, How to train your dragon, peter pan, etc. When this boy likes something he really goes for it.

I have no problem with Lego being his favourite toy. Except for the prices. I also have no problem with Foo Fighters being his fave band. Although it would be nice to be allowed to listen to something else. Just once. And, I would have preferred his music tastes to be less sweary. (Panic ye not- Matt does not have a concept of taboo words yet. And, I do try to insert my own safe words here and there- For the record (what a pun) Monkey Wrench definitely sounds like this:'I still remember every single word you said, And all the ships that somehow came along with it.' Please sing this version if you are lucky enough to rock out with the boy at some point!

It would also be nice if he liked films with less fighting. But that instinct has always been there- Star Wars just gives Matt a way to frame and channel it. I have no real problem with Star Wars. I like the films but I wouldn't say I was an uber fan. The Goonies was more my thing. But everyone else seems to be riding the Star Wars wave so the boy wanted in. One problem I do have is that this obsession has arrived sooner than expected. Matt's cousins and older friends are hooked but Matt had decided to wait until he was 8 to watch them. Instead he picked up the story lines through watching Lego star wars clips. But in a moment of bravery and maturity he decided he was ready to watch the real deal. Obvs in the real order as dictated by cousin Jake of 4,5,6,1,2,3, and 7! I went along with this plan as I was more than prepared for Matt to change his mind. This is a boy who will not watch Peter Rabbit, describes the first fifteen of minutes of Finding Nemo like a scene from Jaws, and had nightmares after Zootropolis. But no, he loved the films. What can you do? It has all been at Matt's choosing. On reflection, I do actually consider it all pretty healthy (in a chocolate raisin kind of way). As it goes the Star Wars obsession makes sense. The epic tale of good versus evil, clear loyalties, and great fight scenes all completely satisfy his needs at the  moment. 

Here comes the inevitable but. The main problem is that all of this means that unless we are building, rocking, or lightsabering, then it just isn't on the cards for Matt. Nothing seems to be really grabbing him as much as these interests. This is the issue. How do you encourage your Jedi in training to sit and enjoy a book when their adrenaline is pumping and they just need to fight, run, and be physical?

Well, I bide my time. Run himself tired, he will. (Please supply own Yoda voice. I have been informed that mine is the worst Matt has ever heard.) And then the further issue is that even on the occasions when Matt is feeling receptive (broken, defeated, exhausted, or ill) we need a bloomin good book to captivate him. 

Do I look like I want to cuddle and read?

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that Matt is four and three very big quarters. The picture books and stories we have are now very familiar and do not compete with the thrills of Star Wars. It is hard to go from this adrenaline fuelled stuff to tales of tractors and fables of forgetful cats. Furthermore, at this point, I suspect, Matt is ready for the next challenge. He would probably do well to learn to read the books himself but he is not interested in that yet. Matt likes to recognise letters and guess at words but he has no plans to read for himself and potentially oust me out of the bedtime routine. Fine by me. We can wait until he is ready. (I don't need him reading my endless lists before his birthday and Christmas. Although, to be fair,this may never be a real problem as he is already acutely aware of how bad my handwriting is.)

I was discussing these problems with my pal KTW (not the handwriting problem- she is already familiar with my work) who comes from a family of Star Wars obsessives when she mentioned a series of Star Wars books by Little Golden Books that may do the trick. What a wise woman.

So, taking Mrs W's advice, I ordered what we call SW 4, 5, and 6 - you may know them as Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Or what I used to call (you know, before I was trained in all these matters by my master) The Real Star Wars, The One Without a Happy Ending, and The One with the Ewoks.

I was really impressed when the books arrived. Moreover (ooh essay mode) Matt was beyond excited about these books. It was the best reaction he had had about books in a long while.
YES YES YES. They are perfect. Look at him! Need I say more? Has that ever stopped me before?
These books heralded something new not least because on the day the books arrived we actually had to move bedtime earlier because he was so keen to read all three. Matt was engaged, interested, and satisfied. No sooner had I dispatched him off to the land of nod I had to order 1,2,3, and 7. Do you need me to fill you in on the real titles or have you cracked the cunning code? Just in case- 1 is the rubbish one, 2 is the one I did not bother watching, 3 is the one where Darth Vader is created (and I was surprised to love it so much), and 7 is the new one.

Anyhoo back to the books. Films, you can stand down now.

This one is Matt's fave

These books are immediately inviting. They are so well designed. The illustrations are retro and I love the muted colours. It took the boy a moment or two to get to grips with the people looking like cartoons and not real people but the wee pedant soon got over it.

Who wouldn't love these graphics and sound effects?

Most of all I love that these interpretations of the films are age appropriate. There has been very careful consideration shown towards how they deal with the darker parts of Star Wars. Death and killing are just not in the vocabulary. Terms such as when 'Yoda was at one with the force' break sad news in a cotton wool way. Also, when Anakin's mother pops her clogs the book breaks this to the young reader with 'he finds her just in time to say goodbye.' Also:  
I do know that you deserve better than this photo but the point is the text, people!
I feel safe and comfortable reading them to the almost five year old. These books are really easy to read and not too long or wordy. Well, depending on the kind of day you may have had.

This set of books has given us both a new hope (too easy that one) about Matt's relationship to books. Matt loves that he doesn't have to forget Star Wars at bedtime despite the dvds being locked away and the lightsabers being put out of reach. These books fulfil his need to understand, reconstruct, imagine, anticipate, and be entertained all within the confines of his new weltenshauung. (Matthew is a fan of the German language. Mummy I wish we used German numbers in England because then we'd have more numbers. Hmmm you do the math.)

So, I stand by something I said in an earlier blog- your little person may not always choose books that will win literary awards or to show off on your bookshelf but it is much more rewarding and worthwhile to allow the child to choose the books that win their hearts.

It is more than healthy to feed an obsession if it means you are nurturing a relationship, building trust, and sharing a common interest. Through the new hobbies, especially Star Wars, we have created a dialogue and a storyboard through which to explore the world. Does it matter if I have to answer questions about how old Yoda is and why Kylo Ren turned to the dark side? Is it really such a problem that I find myself lying awake at night trying to work out Finn's parentage and Poe's potential significance? Actually yes it does, she yawns. But, it is a small price to pay for feeding the apprentice's imagination.

At bed time, I have very little choice in what to read and in the daytime there is very little scope in terms of deciding what we play or do. I am not sure how much more I can take of lightsabers etc but I can't see it petering out any time soon. The force is strong in this one and it is my duty to steer him away from the darkside. It is for this reason that these books are special. This series of books are playing an important role in my battle for reading and may their force be with you too.