The Challenge of ‘World Knowledge’

We finished our ‘Wimpy Kid’ on Friday, and Haroun was tired. So I read the first chapter of a ‘Hardy Boys’ to him, with the warning that this book would be hard for him and the offer that we would only continue if he liked it, otherwise we would find something else. Well, he loved it.

The Hardy Boys series has been updated several times, but the basic story is the same: Frank and Joe are undercover crime-busting teenagers. The books are grade-4 level linear declarative (action) stories, harder than Goosebumps due to a combination of wider vocabulary, longer descriptions, ambiguous motivations, and greater need for world knowledge.

World knowledge is a particular problem for Haroun. He is not a worldly child to start with, his family is devout and his life revolves around five visits to the mosque each day. He doesn’t spend much time watching TV. And of course it is READING that builds most of our knowledge about the world, which he doesn’t yet do.

hardyBoysBurnedSo we set up a browser and googled when we hit something unfamiliar. Today we looked up iguanas, cobras, victorian houses, Frank Sinatra, classic Corvettes, vinyl records, symphony orchestras, sheet music, and more. We talked about how parents have ALWAYS thought their kids music is loud and awful. I pulled out blank CDs and we talked about how to download and burn albums.

The Hardy Boys are relatively simple stories, but you can see why they would be opaque and demotivating to an emerging reader, especially one who still struggles with decoding, vocabulary, and fluency. There is no shortcut. We are going to have to make sense of the story together in order to enjoy it.

If you are interested click here for further reading about why grade-4 texts can be so challenging.




Dale Jeffries reading over breakfast at the diner with a student.

I have to tell a favorite story about the Hardy Boys. Two years ago I was reading with a student at a diner in Regent Park over breakfast. (I had caught him eating a bag of Gummi Bears for breakfast at school, so our deal was I would buy him any breakfast that didn’t include sugar.) We had finished a few Goosebumps together and I wanted him to try a Hardy Boys, but he refused – it was too hard, didn’t look like fun, unfamiliar universe, don’t like change, etc.

This diner was a favorite for policemen, and a line of them were paying at the cash. I called to the first one as he was leaving “Excuse me sir, have you ever read the Hardy Boys”, and held up the book. He looked surprised and then broke into a wide smile, “I loved the Hardy Boys.” Then I asked the next, and the next. and the next with similar answers. I turned to my student, “OK, it’s your turn, you ask the next one.” “Just gimme the damn book.” And he quickly loved them too.


Posted in Summer of Repairing Dyslexia

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