The words of a muse

Achi reading her first ever chapter book when she was 5.

Achi was busy chatting on the internet with classmates one long weekend. She was asking her classmates what they put in their booklets.
Their homework for the long weekend was to finish reading Adventures of a Child of War by Lin Acacio-Flores published by Anvil. They were supposed to put words they do not understand in a little booklet.
Achi was worried and told me, “Nanay, I have nothing to put in my booklet.” She was a bit sad about it because she already made, stapled and decorated her small booklet.
When teacher joined the group chat, she advised Achi to put just three complex words in the booklet so she would have something to share in class. Good advice.
Achi is a voracious reader. When she was 3½ and in preschool, Ahma attended her kindergarten parent-teacher conference on my behalf. Ahma lamented to the teacher that she thinks Achi is a bit behind because she could not read yet. Ahma was comparing her to me; I started reading at 3. Achi learned to read around age 5, and never stopped.
By 7, she read the first Harry Potter book. At 8, she read two more Harry Potters. Her father put his foot down and asked her to wait until she turned 10 before moving on to book 4. Long wait, but she has many other books in the house to read while eagerly anticipating her 10th birthday. We do have quite an extensive library – two floors worth of floor to ceiling bookshelves, plus two stand-alone shelves, plus one entire low shelf for Filipino children’s books.
My heart swelled when I handed her my copy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. It, and the following books in the series, have been sitting on our shelves for 30 years, waiting for her. The cover split as soon as she opened the book. No matter. She finished all four books in one week. All four are wrecked, and I had to buy new copies. All worth it.
I asked her why she loves to read so much – she said exactly as I thought – because she feels like she is watching a movie in slow motion. There is nothing like it in the world; “I will never do any of these things! There’s magic and unicorns and funny dialogue, and a boy who flies off a jungle gym wanting to fly.”
She savors every word, feels every emotion strewn across the pages. I watch her sometimes, sitting on the couch laughing her head off, or sometimes trying to hide a towel that she swipes across her face when she thinks no one hears her crying. I held her hand when she grabbed the wrong book and started reading a scary story (it was a war story; I forgot which) that she insisted she finish so she would not have nightmares.
Reading has made her the thinker that she is. An American student, who was her classmate for a year, said “M, you’re the smartest person I know in the whole world.” Achi was beaming and slightly embarrassed when she told me that.
All of us know that reading improves vocabulary and increases intelligence. How does that happen anyway?
While reading, our brain is focused on breaking apart the words into chunks we can understand. Most commonly, we visualize what we read. What many do not know is that there is a host of other skills that are so automatic to readers, they do not notice doing them.
Readers summarize. While reading, the brain immediately creates a very short summary to prepare us to read the next chapter.
Readers ask questions. While reading, we constantly ask the book questions. Our brains ask the character, “That’s so dumb, why did you do that?” Or we suddenly realize that something is missing like, “What happened to the thing from chapter 3?”
Readers predict. Right before our eyes read the first words of the next chapter, our brains are already predicting a bit of what could happen next. In some instances, the predictions are obvious like, “Oh no, this character is going to die.” We eagerly read the next chapters to see if we were correct or not.
Readers make connections. When we read books, we connect chapters to each other. We connect this story to other stories we have read. We connect stories to our own lives or the lives of others. It was very exciting for me when Achi finished reading different fairy tales when she was 5. “Nanay, they’re all the same! It’s a girl and a prince who gives her a kiss.”
Beyond these cognitive tasks during reading, readers also develop empathy. When readers read fiction, they are able to relate to the mental states and emotions of different characters. This understanding is a crucial skill that helps readers navigate complex social relationships.
Achi’s reading is paying off. She is smart and caring. She is very quick on the uptake and easily understands things of the world. The best part is a random moment in the car when she blurted out, “Tatay, you know, there’s no such thing as doing nothing. If you’re alive, you’re doing something; you’re existing!”

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