In Which the Gem Finds Itself, by Sarah Dooley

My work in progress is a story told from the point of view of a child who can't read. I keep catching myself allowing her to read with ease -- a flyer for a contest, a post online from a friend, store hours -- and with each convenience I rewrite from her, I find myself more and more in awe of this kid I know.

I teach in a pilot program for kids who, for one reason or another, were not finding their academic needs met in their public schools. These are the kids who, when enrolled in a class of 30, shrink to their most basic academic merits, or lack thereof. "That one can't sit still." "That one won't speak up." "That one can't read." Not that I think their teachers ever thought of them this way -- there are wonderful teachers out there in public school who do their very best by each of those thirty, class period after class period -- but when you're tasked with the safety and education of children by multiples of ten, you rely on conveniences. You give an instruction and the group responds. You write directions on the board and the children read them.

This kid, she made it all the way through second grade not reading. Not only that, she made it all the way through second grade with no one realizing she couldn't read. Each of those conveniences I snatch from my main character, each time I have to think of a work-around, another way for information to reach my kid's brain so she can pursue her dreams and adventures -- I'm struck by the realization that this kid made it through three years of public school finding those work-arounds so fluently and so unassumingly that she looked for all the world like a kid who just read the directions off the board.

The brilliance of that child, the exhausting work she undertook, every day, to compensate for the lack of what I took for granted till I tried taking it away from an imaginary kid -- and she spent those three years feeling like a failure. It is a crime that a kid so smart, so creative, so determined to fulfill her potential no matter the conveniences denied her, should ever feel anything less than brilliant.

Today, I teach a class of five. My five gems, no longer hidden in a group of thirty. Each comes to me to learn not just to work around the boulder sitting in their path but to bust it into pieces wherever possible. We learn ways to compensate, but we also learn the skills that have seemed unattainable, chipping away at that boulder skill after skill until it is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and then we polish it till it shines. We find our gems, and here is hers:

Oh, my heavens, but she can write.

She does not write with a pen, but the stories she tells are rich with characters who have challenges to face, characters who work around their weaknesses to discover immense strengths. Her stories are crafted with the care of someone who has had to pay extra attention to spoken language and therefore has a stunning grasp of the nuances therein.

I hope to hold her book one day in my hands. I'll read it aloud.


  1. Such an amazing gift you have given us w/this post. Think of the skills the non-reader has developed and how brilliant they are in their own way. TY.


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