Who was that masked man, anyway? - FamilyEducation

Who was that masked man, anyway?

June 13,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I've written before about how we love the children's books in the CD section of our public library. There are shelves and shelves of CDs from books to listen to. We've graduated (thankfully) from Junie B. Jones and even Ramona, and moved on to real chapter books--ones that run hours in length and can easily occupy L. (and even T.) in the car for days. Listening to books on CD jump-started L.'s interest in reading this year. He's a rising third-grader now, so he's been reading for quite a while--and very well--but he doesn't process what he reads in typical ways and he has trouble keeping his concentration on longer books. The words, he says, jump around on the page, and all it takes is one second of distraction to make him lose his focus on the book, his place on the page, and his patience.

Months ago someone suggested books on CD to me and we started checking them out. I kept tabs on what they were reading at school, too, and found those books on CD at the library, as well. L. loves listening to books more than reading them. If he finds one he really likes, it will make its way into the house, and into the CD player in his room (my old Sony boom box from my college days) where he'll listen to it over and over again until he's digested every single word of it. I'm glad we've found this solution to L.'s reading frustrations. 

Recently we checked out this book by Avi (who isn't a rock band, as my husband first thought when I mentioned the name to him, but a real live award-winning children's book author). The book is set in the 1940s and centers around a boy who loves the radio adventures and serials of that time: The Shadow, Captain Midnight, The Lone Ranger. I checked it out for L. without knowing much about Avi or the book, but when I read the back I just had a feeling L. would like it. Scott grew up listening to old tapes of The Shadow (who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows...) and, in our family room, we have a framed LP cover of The Shadow hanging over the couch. On several long road trips during our grad school days, when I was pregnant with L., we listened to hours of The Shadow on tape (our radio was broken). Perhaps some of this made its way into my uterus where L. lay, curled up in the dark, and was soaked into his conscience so that when he first heard the opening of the Avi CD, he was hooked at once.

The downside to all this is that we have been living and breathing masked heroes and spies and shifty villains for days now. It's all we listen to in the car, over and over again. At night L. refuses a bedtime story and we listen, instead, to a chapter of the book. In the morning, while I'm groggily stumbling downstairs to get ready for the day, I hear the narrator's voice, or snippets from old 1940s radio shows coming out from behind L.'s closed door. It's all very jarring and surreal at 6:30 in the morning, to hear a bit of dialogue from The Lone Ranger as you make your way down the stairs to let the dogs out and brew some coffee. And I've been worried about poor T., who has been forced to listen to the CD now for days. She is, after all, just four, and the book is definitely for older kids (ages 10 and up). She's been a good sport all this time, though, listening happily in the car, and even sitting next to L. on the bedroom floor in his room, flipping through picture books while the CD plays on. And on. And on. Was she getting anything out of it?

Yesterday evening, while I was making dinner in the kitchen and T. was, as usual, perched on the counter watching me and "helping" out, I became aware of something out of the corner of my eye. I turned in time to see part of L. disappear around the frame of the dining room door.

"Did you see something, T.?" I asked her loudly, so L. would hear.

"Nothing!" T. replied, looking around in genuine confusion.

We continued grating and chopping and then I saw it again: L. disappearing into the hallway in his best spy disguise--his good blue pin-striped shirt and a pair of dress-up John Lennon wire glasses. T. caught sight of him. She turned to me, her eyes twinkling with excitement and humor. She raised one finger into the air and paused, summoning up words from her memory. Then she exclaimed, loud enough for the neighbors to hear:

"Say, Mama--who WAS that masked man, anyway?"


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Remember my bag of tricks? I'll be putting it to good use this weekend on a visit to our Nation's Capitol. Wish me luck and...a bottomless bag.