What does writing look like to someone who cannot read or write?
The image you see here was created by my three-year-old grandson, Zeke. It is his attempt to make a book.
Zeke is read a lot of picture books by his parents. Moreover, his seven-year-old sister—in first grade—is excited about learning to read and write. So Zeke has a lot of experience with writing, but has virtually no comprehension of how to make sense of it. Even so, here he is attempting to replicate writing—all those squiggly lines.
For those of us who read, who have, more or less, mastered the art of decoding the symbols we refer to as the alphabet, I think it’s hard to grasp what a person sees when they can make no sense of writing. The closest I have come to that—as an adult—occurred when I walked through the streets of Tokyo, passing through a veritable forest of written Japanese of which I could make no sense whatsoever. Still, I knew it was writing and knew, too, it was my ignorance of Japanese that prevented me from reading.
But Zeke doesn’t grasp how our writing works. Nonetheless, he is replicating what he sees. Those squiggly lines.
But even as I write this, things are changing for Zeke. His dad (my son) tells me Zeke recognizes a Z when he sees one. In other words–so to speak–the end of our alphabet is the beginning of reading for him. I’ll miss the squiggles.