The Space We’re In

The Space We're In cover

Author: Katya Balen

Finished on: 3 May 2020

Where did I get this book: Borrowed from my son

‘I read that book you bought me,’ my son says one morning as he snuggles into the crook of my arm in bed. I’m still half asleep. ‘The boy’s mum’s brain started bleeding and then she died.’

Wide awake. Oh god, is he traumatised? Why didn’t I check this book more thoroughly? I examine my boy for signs of emotional damage.

‘Are you okay?’ I say. ‘Are you sad?’

‘I’m fine,’ he replies. ‘Can I have some cereal?’

After more checking and questioning, I am finally convinced he is not traumatised. Except possibly about the slowness of breakfast service.

It’s a good reminder that children often cope well with books that are ‘too old’ for them. I knew it was aimed at slightly older children, but the subject matter and presentation – a boy who is obsessed with space and codes, and a lot of numbers all over the place – seemed so much his cup of tea that I bought it for him. Not realising that not only is Frank, the ten year-old narrator, facing the challenges of living with a severely autistic brother, it turns out his mum dies too.

The Space We’re In is a beautiful book, though. Something I discovered for myself when I, perhaps belatedly, read it too. Not only the writing but also the illustrations and the way the pages are laid out – it’s all gorgeous.

It tackles its subject matter with a simplicity and straightforwardness that, as you grow used to the voice and tone, becomes more and more heartwarming.

My son’s school has a policy that they can only move up to the next basket of reading books when their comprehension of everything happening in the books in their current basket is complete. It’s something I have wondered about but, ultimately, his teacher has a different job from me. Her job is to teach him the technical elements of reading. I see my job as teaching him to love reading.

I read plenty of books where my comprehension of what’s going on is far from complete. And that’s fine – I still love them. They challenge me and teach me new things. I also think learning to be comfortable with something you don’t fully understand is an important lesson in itself.

So, give your children books that are too old for them. But, whatever you do, don’t take too long with the honey hoops.


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