I thought it would be appropriate to end my summer reading series of blog posts on International Literacy Day with an excerpt from my novel, King of the Castle – inspired by Elijah Allen, a school caretaker who learned to read when he was a grandfather, and then went on to urge youngsters in Canada’s north to stay in school and learn to read.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” a dark-haired woman said. “My name is Brenda. I’m going to be your teacher.”
After the students introduced themselves, the teacher showed them how to write the words I can. Everyone copied the words on the first page of their notebooks. They wrote I can three times. Then the teacher asked each student how they would finish an I can sentence. She wrote down the words for each sentence on a chart.
“Would someone like to try to read any of the sentences?” Brenda asked.
Mr. Elliot kept his eyes in his lap so she wouldn’t ask him.
The tall woman beside him, who had told the class she could read a little, raised a finger.
“Lorraine? Good for you.”
Lorraine began to read. “I can . . . make . . . a boat. I can . . . kick — I mean, kind . . . No, it’s . . . um . . .”
Mr. Elliot cringed, but no one in the class laughed. And the teacher didn’t shout or wave a ruler.
“That’s a hard one,” Brenda said, “because this ‘k’ is silent. It says, “I can knit socks.”
Mr. Elliot went home that day with three sentences to study —
I can push a broom.
I can kick a ball.
I can play harmonica.
As he coasted home on his bike, he thought, Maybe — just maybe — I can learn to read.