We all love to read to our children. I have my own favorites and Adam has his. He will sit calmly in my arms reading The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. His favorite are The Mr. Small and Mr. Giggles books. Adam can begin to tell me his favorite parts and why they are his favorite parts — something that he could not articulate when he was two or three-years-old. He loves reading cookbooks, all kinds of books now, when in his toddler years he would seem to only be drawn to books with letters and numbers. While he still occasionally looks at those, they are not all he looks at anymore. Did I teach him to like other books? Not particularly. There was no forcing I could do to get him interested, no “program” with a reward system of getting him to like reading other books. Instead all I think I did was use the books he was already reading, describing pictures within them, talking about other words that began with the letter of the day. Come to think of it, I should have been hired by Sesame Street for coming up with everything that goes with the letter A.
As Adam grows older, I’m interested in books that have meaning for us without hard-boiled moral endings. Books about the dentist are good. Books about doctors — good too. The books I come about autism and friendships are okay but the majority are made with the intention of raising money to cure the child which minimizes the purpose of not only the message, but the complexity of it.
Remembering the Wild Boy of Averyon, I decided to purchase the children’s version by Mordicai Gerstein. When found in the wild living among the animals, the “Wild Boy” was brought to Paris. He was found living successfully in the wild. Yet trying to “civilize” him in Paris was a challenge. The boy, never having been socialized with humans, could not talk. His sensory system was different (he could survive in the cold winters without clothes). He was observed and stared at as a strange creature, and written about in the media to the fascination of all who read about him. Because he didn’t listen they determined him to be deaf and mute. Of course, the boy tried to run away back to his woods, but he was captured so that scientists and scholars could study him.
He ignored the sound of guns shooting next to his ears, but not the sound of a cracked walnut in the next room. “He loved walnuts.” He would not eat the food civilized society gave him, but only nuts, potatoes baked in the coals. He didn’t seem to feel pain as they pinched him. They could not get his attention with toys and after weeks of examination.
“‘The boy’s behavior,’ they said, ‘places him below all animals, wild or domestic. He is hopeless.’ Then they lost interest in him.”
Until John-Marc Itar, a young doctor cared for him and decided to teach the boy he named Victor. He began to learn the things Dr. Itar taught him, but he could never learn to talk. Then,
“One sweet spring morning, Victor woke and, without thinking, ran off to find the woods. He became lost in the suburbs of Paris and spent the night hiding in a park till the police found him.” They brought him “home.”
His hair was combed, he could set the table, he was proud of himself when he could solve difficult problems. “He wasn’t wild anymore.”
“But he did remain silent, and could never tell of his wild life. And something of the wild was always in him….The sound of a rising wind, or the sight of whirling snowflakes or the sun bursting from behind a cloud made him tremble with excitement and wild joy.” Victor would gaze every night at the moon and the doctor would wonder what he saw there.
Mordicai Gerstein, The Wild Boy, Sunburst Edition, 2002.