Wonderboy had an appointment with a genetics specialist yesterday. This was an appointment his neurosurgeon had urged me to set up, even though I explained that the genetics department at our former hospital had done extensive testing and ruled out chromosomal reasons for my boy’s many "abnormalities." Their best guess was that Wonderboy’s issues are the result of a developmental glitch early on in utero, some influential cells marching to the beat of their own peculiar drum. Much as everyone would like a name to attach to Wonderboy’s collection of atypical physical characteristics, a name with a nice clear road map to show us the best route to take in nurturing this odd little man, the consensus was that no such name, no predefined syndrome, exists.
Wonderboy, I’ve been told by many a specialist, is a one of a kind.
But this neurosurgeon was insistent, and the geneticist he wanted us to see is, he declared, one of the most esteemed in the world. I set up the appointment, and I’m glad I did.
I loved her, loved her warm and easy manner, the instant camaraderie she struck up with my son. I loved the gleam of understanding in her eyes, and the shrewdness of her questions.
During the course of the appointment, I realized something about genetics specialists, something that was as true of our experience with that department back in Virginia as it was in Dr. J.’s office yesterday. All the other specialists we see—and don’t get me wrong, I am a very big fan of your specialty doctors, your surgeons, neurosurgeons, cardiologists, otolaryngologists, developmental pediatricians and the rest of the lot—though honesty compels me to admit I have yet to meet a neurologist who didn’t treat me like a pest, and my child like an interruption to his research—all those other specialists, I was saying, focus by definition on one little piece of the puzzle.
The genetics doctors are looking at how all the pieces fit together. What I realized during yesterday’s appointment is that Dr. J. was not just taking a history, she was eliciting a narration about my son. She wants his story, two or three generations back, if you please.
A doctor whose passion is story is a doctor I can relate to. A great deal of my life revolves around interpreting the cryptic, adorable, worrisome text that is my son. I study the pages of his life like a scholar, with a scholar’s passion for his subject. Dr. J. took a look at this book and found it every bit as compelling as I do.
And she surprised me. I raised the question I’d discussed with the neurologist: hadn’t Genetics already ruled out genetics as the explanation for Wonderboy’s alphabet soup of issues?
Not necessarily, says Dr. Jones. I told her what tests had been done in three years ago, and she nodded and said that yes, that sounds about right in regard to what processes were available in 2004.
"The thing is," she explained, "we’re good at reading chromosomes. But we’re not so good at reading genes."
But there’s a new test that decodes a bit more of the genetic cipher, and it’s possible—not likely, but possible—that cracking that code could tell us more about Wonderboy.
Something else about Dr. J.: delightful sense of humor. She didn’t even mind when I said, begging her pardon, that we see so many specialists it sometimes feels like trying to walk a bunch of dogs all pulling in different directions. "Forgive the analogy," I hastened to add, but she laughed and said that oh, no, it’s the perfect description.
I walked out of her office feeling like I’d found someone who could lend a hand with all those leashes.
Just read at Lindafay’s blog (the always excellent Higher Up and Further In) that Jacci of An Educational Life has begun a biweekly Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival. I am so there!
Submit entries here by Monday night. The first edition will appear at Jacci’s blog on Tuesday, September 19. This issue’s theme will be "The Great Outdoors." Hmm, I just might have an entry on that topic…
September 11, 2007 @ 7:17 am | Filed under: Books
I first heard about this delightful-indeed book from the Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room. A Child’s Delight, by Noel Perrin, is a collection of essays about children’s books that ought not to be missed. The DHM’s review suggested that Perrin’s book ought not to be missed, either, so naturally I took her advice. She is, as always, as good as her word.
I loved this little book. Perrin wrote a column on books—"neglected minor masterpieces" is how he described them—for The Washington Post. Not children’s books; that came later. His column, "Rediscoveries," recommended books Perrin thought everyone should read but which had seemed, for various reasons, to slip under the radar.
Eventually, Perrin shifted his attentions to children’s literature. The Deputy Headmistress elaborates:
Years later he was invited to
revisit the topic, only this time, to look at neglected children’s
books that deserved greater attention.
He and his editor had
some trouble coming up with a list they both agreed on. Perrin came up
with a list of 17 books, but the editor rejected eight of them as too
well known. The editor, a well read man, didn’t want books that were
too famous. The point was to recommend pieces that everybody didn’t
The story of just how Perrin came up with the final list of books, recounted in the introduction to A Child’s Delight and summarized in the DHM’s post, is fascinating reading in itself.
I had read about two thirds of the books Perrin discusses. Our taste seems to run on similar tracks, for many of his most enthusiastic reviews were of books I get pretty excited about myself. I’ve been tracking down and reading the other books on his list, and I owe him (and the DHM) a debt of thanks: these are indeed books not to be missed.
The DHM talks in detail about a little picture book called Johnny Crow’s Garden, by Leslie Brooke, reviewed with joyful rhapsody by Perrin. Their descriptions jogged my memory; I remember reading—and adoring—Johnny Crow when I was a tiny girl. I scored a used copy on Amazon marketplace (it is no longer in print, unbelievably, but you can view the whole book at Project Gutenberg) and had goosebumps when I turned its pages and saw those familiar old animals, the storks, the lion, the dapper Johnny Crow. Beanie quickly claimed the book for herself, and we have shared many a chuckle over it already in these few weeks.
Another Perrin pick is Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag, well known in homeschooling circles because of its inclusion in—hmm. I was going to say its inclusion in Before Five in a Row, but I just checked the booklist, and the other FIAR booklists, and it isn’t there. Another Wanda Gag book, The ABC Bunny, is in BFIAR, so that must be what I was thinking of. But you remember Millions of Cats, the Caldecott Honor Book about the little old man and the little old woman who are all alone, and they want a cat, and the husband goes off to find one and encounters
hundreds of cats,
thousands of cats,
millions and billions and trillions of cats—
who all follow him home, which is when things get grisly. But charmingly so.
Perrin gives a very interesting biographical sketch of Wanda Gag, whose personal story was new to me. I’m even more intrigued by her work now.
Those two are picture books, but most of Perrin’s essays are about middle-grade novels. His taste runs toward fantasy, which suits me fine. Some of his choices surprised me because I wouldn’t have thought they were in fact under the radar. Watership Down is one such novel. You know I agree with Perrin that everyone should read that book, but before that Google search hit popped up on my sitemeter, I might have thought such advice was redundant. Perrin wants to make sure no one misses it, so it lands a place in his book.
As do Noel Streatfeild’s "Shoes" books: Theater Shoes, Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes, and the others. I have probably blogged about those books before. They are enchanting. My girls are in the thick of them now, especially Beanie. I never encountered them as a child; my introduction to Streatfeild came during my first months on the job as an editorial assistant at Random House. My boss was involved in bringing three of the Shoes books back into print. All we had was hard copy, old out-of-print editions from the company archives. Someone needed to type the manuscripts into a Word document—and that someone, as it happens, was I. This was a freelance job, not part of my salaried employment, and I remember sitting up late at night in my little Queens apartment, typing away to earn extra money for the wedding I was planning. Talk about a cushy job. The only drawback was that my fingers couldn’t keep up with my devouring eyes—the books were so good that I kept finding myself drawn in, turning pages when I should have been typing.
Perrin’s quite right; if Streatfeild has slipped under your radar, you should treat yourself to a delightful read. Ballet Shoes is my favorite, I think (though I’ve a fondness for Dancing Shoes, with that insufferable little twit Dulcie Wintle and her maddening "baby dance"). Ballet Shoes is the story of three unrelated orphan girls—Posy, Pauline, and Petrova—who are adopted, one after the other, by an eccentric English explorer who spends most of the book off exploring, leaving his charges in the care of a sweet great-niece. Exploring doesn’t bring in much income, so the niece fills the house with interesting boarders, one of whom just happens to teach ballet…
But I don’t want to reveal too much. One of the things I appreciate most about Perrin’s reviews is that he is careful not to give away plot surprises.
Even so, I didn’t read more than the first few paragraphs of the essays about books I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading. Perrin sent me running to the library website to see which titles I could track down. The girls and I are just getting into The Children of Green Knowe, which Perrin praises most enthusiastically, and others on my list include T. H. White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose (I’ve only read White’s The Once and Future King) and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. (I know, I know, I can’t believe I haven’t read it either!)
Perrin’s essays have an E. B. White quality about them: their calm, good-humored simplicity; their elegant prose. I do believe I enjoyed his essay on Diana Wynne Jones’s ripping good tale, Dogsbody, almost as much as I enjoyed the novel itself. Coincidentally, Jane was reading Dogsbody about the same time I was reading A Child’s Delight, and when she finished, she wanted to discuss it, as we are wont to do. It had been probably ten years since I read that book myself, so I had to re-read it for Jane. ("Had to" makes it sound like an obligation, but you know if it’s Wynne Jones, it’s a privilege.) When I finished I really wanted to sit down with Jane and Mr. Perrin over a cup of tea for a nice long confab about Sirius, the luminous being who was banished to earth—in a puppy’s body, no less—for a crime he didn’t commit, with only a dog’s short life span in which to clear his name.
Other gems on Perrin’s list include Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers (much better than the movie), Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, and my favorite Edith Nesbit novel, The Railway Children.