I absolutely love reading to Penelope and Clementine. As a stay-at-home dad, I try to read to them at least three times a day. Before introducing them to the wonderful world of children’s books, I read them some adult-themed non-fiction: “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”; and “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.”
It’s my understanding that human babies can see color at birth, but their vision is blurred, so they can only distinguish contrasting colors such as black-and-white. Now that their vision is fully developed, I’ve switched to more age appropriate material. Reading to six-month olds often feels like a pointless endeavor, but apparently it contributes to the development of their growing brains. The girls usually lose interest whilst I’m reading, and either roll over or start chewing on the book. Nonetheless, I make it a habit to finish — always the positive role model. One book that usually holds their attention is “Duncan The Story Dragon” — a wonderful picture book about the joy of reading — suggested for children age 4 – 6. The girls seem captivated by the book’s colorfully vivid illustrations.
A story-reading dragon—what’s not to like? In addition to the book’s valuable lessons for children, I think it also has an important take away for parents: Duncan suffers from Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). I’m not a psychologist, but my wife is, and she was inclined to agree with my theory. Children with SPD can have heightened reactions to ordinary experiences — such as biting into a sandwich, riding a bicycle, or reading a book. These children often have a “fight or flight” response to those experiences. This can result in frequent meltdowns, withdrawal from others, or severe aggression. While a child might respond by yelling, thrashing, or crying, Duncan’s fight or flight response involves breathing fire.
Duncan loves to read. But the stories so excite him, his imagination catches fire—and so do his books, leaving him wondering about the endings. Does the captain save the ship? Do aliens conquer the Earth? Desperate to reach the all-important words “The End” (“like the last sip of a chocolate milk shake”), Duncan resorts to various methods of self-help — he tries reading in the refrigerator, in front of a bank of electric fans, and even in a bathtub filled with ice. When all else fails, Duncan roams the countryside, begging complete strangers to read to him, but a raccoon, possum, and bull all refuse. Defeated, Duncan eventually returns home, hopeless and weeping. Just as he’s is ready to give up, one of his draconic tears runs “split-splat into a mouse,” a book-loving mouse! Together they battle sea monsters, dodge icebergs, and discover new lands, giving rise to a fast friendship.
It’s a happy ending, but in reality, a short-term solution to Duncan’s sensory processing issues. Eventually the mouse will grow tired of this imbalanced relationship, make new friends, and move on. Feeling scorned, Duncan will most likely have the mouse evicted as an illegal squatter. At that point, Duncan will be back to square one — but with the proper treatment Duncan may one day be able to manage and prevent his book scorching meltdowns.
A 2009 study found that 1 in every 6 children has sensory issues that make it hard to learn or function in school. If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior at home or in school, it’s important that he get the proper diagnosis. Many of the behaviors of kids with sensory problems overlap with symptoms of ADHD, from trouble sitting still or concentrating to melting down during an activity they are enjoying. There is no medication to treat sensory processing issues, but there are therapies as well as practical changes you can make at school and home to help your child feel and do better. If a fire breathing dragon can learn to tame his over-active imagination, there’s hope for everyone.
Again, “Duncan The Story Dragon” is a fantastic children’s book, with a positive message about friendship and the joy of reading. However, there is one line in the book that I cannot ignore in good conscience. Duncan compares the joy of finishing a book to the last sip of a milkshake: “And I want to read those two wonderful words, like the last sip of a chocolate milkshake… The End.” Although I appreciate Duncan’s passion for literature, I totally disagree with this analogy. Finishing a good book is very satisfying, if not bitter sweet — but there’s nothing pleasurable about reaching the end of a milkshake. The last sip of a milkshake is invariably full of regret, self-loathing, and despair.