Easy to be hard

There aren’t nearly enough books out there about reading comprehension. In fact, I always seem to wind up thinking about the same one. Whenever someone has obviously misunderstood something he’s read — or I’ve done it myself — sooner or later, I always think, “Dinner for two and a picture of King Kong — not dinner for two with King Kong.”

Arthur's Prize ReaderThat’s a tag line from one of the books I used to read my daughters, Arthur’s Prize Reader, one of a series of “I Can Read” books about a brash young chimpanzee whose unassuming little sister, Violet, is always stealing his thunder. The books are by Lillian Hoban, who started the series around the same time Marc Brown began his series of books about an aarvark named Arthur. Brown’s series went on to be the basis of a super-successful public television series.

Hoban’s Arthur is a lot of fun, too, though, and in Arthur’s Prize Reader, he sets out to win a contest sponsored by Super Chimp Comics, because according to his hasty reading of the rules, the prize, thrillingly, is dinner for two with King Kong. Violet keeps telling Arthur that’s not what the ad for the contest says — the prize is actually dinner for two and a picture of King Kong — but Arthur is certain she must be wrong, because she’s just learning to readWhat ensues is a wacky adventure on a rainy Saturday, as Arthur and Violet go door to door, trying to sell enough subscriptions to Super Chimp Comics to win the prize.

Meanwhile Violet, who’s in the first grade, has entered a reading contest at school. Arthur pooh-poohs her chances: “You can’t read hard words.” But Violet pays attention where Arthur does not, she talks back to her brother — “I can read hard words” — and she’s the one who wins a treat for the two of them, an outing to an ice cream parlor.

It isn’t always the hard words that are the problem. Sometimes even the easy words get away from us.

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