E Jane Dickson: 'Conor has inherited his mother's tendency to idleness'

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The Independent Online

Conor opens his paperback and clears his throat like a clergyman. "Chapter 26," he announces. He cannot possibly be on chapter 26 of Beware the Snowman, as he only started the book five minutes ago, but this is not the point. Having just graduated to "chapter books", he likes to drive this impressive fact home.

"There's no doubt about it," I say, as if I had been pondering this very point, "it really makes a difference when you have chapters to divide up the action."

"Yes, but," says Clara, who is a logical child, "the whole point of chapters is that you have to do them in the right order."

"Not necessarily," says Con firmly. "When you're reading your own book, all by yourself, you can do it whatever way you want. Isn't that right, Mum?"

"Well," I say, not wanting to discourage, "up to a point. Most stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, so it kind of makes sense to read them the way they were written." Frankly, I am so relieved that reading has finally "kicked in" with Con that I don't much care how he approaches the text. Up until last week, he was insisting he could read books upside down, so the odd foray into post-structuralism is the least of my concerns.

At least Clara's dyslexia is relatively straightforward. Spelling is a torment to her, but thanks to special coaching and a heartbreaking natural diligence, she is, at nine, a fluent and voracious reader. Hearing my daughter read her first lesson in assembly, willing the words to her like Uri Geller at his most demented, was probably the proudest moment of my life.

Con, I had long suspected, is not dyslexic, but has inherited his mother's tendency to idleness. Stories are his passion: but hey, why read a book when you've got a perfectly able parent to do that stuff for you? Still, dyslexia runs in families and I'm grateful for a school that cares enough about the individual to check these things out. A battery of verbal and non-verbal tests revealed, however, that Con's only educational anomaly is an exceptional facility for revolving figures in space. I'm not sure how this skill will stand him in life, but I guess it's nice to know.

Clearly, it was time to force the issue. Henceforward, I announced, I would be reading only girls' stories. If Con was desperate to know the further adventures of Flat Stanley or Horrid Henry, he could find out for himself. "Fine," he said, digging his heels in. "But no Pollyanna, OK?"

In the end, it only took three books to crack him. We revisited Heidi and Little Women, but halfway through What Katy Did, Con could take no more.

"For God's sake!" he burst out. "Why do they always have to die or be in wheelchairs? It's just so girly."

So a bargain has been struck. For every story Con reads for himself, I will read one from Just William (which I secretly love reading best of all). Beginnings, middles and ends revolve in space, but - somewhere - a chapter begins.