Sam's requirements for his "free read" were as follows: Funny, non-fiction, well-written.
Did I mention funny?
After a good deal of thought, we zeroed in on an old favorite from my childhood - Gerald Durrell's "My Family and Other Animals." It's certainly funny, and I knew Sam would respond to the nature study aspect... plus we thought that it's Corfu setting wouldn't hurt, given that Greece and Rome are a big part of this year's curriculum (OK, ancient Greece and Rome, but still.)
The problem was that Sam was daunted by the density of the book - not to mention the smallness of the print.
Sam is a distinctly aural learner. When he was just three, we learned he had strabismus, a condition in which the eyes do not team properly. Physically, this appears to be nothing more than a "lazy" eye, one that occasionally turns in slightly when he is tired or stressed. My mother and I have the same thing. ("Oh, but it's not genetic..." the western pediatric opthamologists told us - that's another blog.) What is actually going on, brain-wise, is a whole lot less subtle. When the eyes do not team, the brain must constantly choose which eye to use in any given moment, and the vision is only ever out of one eye at a time. Activities like reading can be therefore be supremely fatiguing. Though vision therapy has made a huge difference for Sam, under the circumstances it's amazing that he reads as much or as well as he does.
His ears are another story. He is a passionate musician with perfect pitch. He has an uncanny ear for mimicry and accents, and his memory of things heard is infallible. The psycho-educational assessment he took in 6th grade affirmed this, and the psychologist recommended that, given the predominant role his ears played in his learning and retention, he should consider recording his spelling words, for instance, and listening to the playback as opposed to studying the words on a sheet.
Sam is, therefore, a perfect candidate for audiobooks. And since he had just received a new iPod for his birthday, this seemed the perfect opportunity to give it a shot. I was elated to discover "My Family and Other Animals" on Audible.com - just put up this year - with the venerable English actor Nigel Davenport narrating. We played a sample and Sam nodded. We downloaded it to his iPod.
After listening to the first chapter, Sam pronounced, "This is great. It's slower than reading a book - but SO much better. It's like being read to!"
He's now on chapter ten. This may be a revelation for him.
NB: For visual learners, the graphic novel could be a similar revelation - though slower on the uptake in terms of adaptations of classics...