“Accidents happen on purpose,” says Rob Schindler, the author of Hot Dogs and Hamburgers, a quirky title for this nonfiction romp, for that’s what it is. A chance bullying of his eleven-year son during a baseball game wakes him from his grief. His Big Man cannot read, despite frustrating years spent in special education.

Honesty and humor leap from the pages, as Rob completes the six-day training program for tutors, offered by Literacy Chicago and meets with his first students: Melvin, a thirty-one year old UPS apprentice mechanic with a huge smile and great hands, with fingernails the size of postage stamps; Elvira, sixty-three, barely five feet tall, wearing white gym shoes with blue laces and no socks; and Anne Marie, an ice block of a woman sipping from a 7-Eleven Big Gulp and munching Doritos, her Scotchtaped Bible close at hand. From these students, he will learn how to teach his son.

Analogies, silly stories, and much laughter lighten up lessons on phonics and the memorization of the 220 sight words from the Dolch List. New learning quickens the students who learn to care for each other. After three hilarious months, four more students enter the camaraderie of the class, now call the GEMS, an acronym of the first letters of their names.

What gives this memoir spirit comes from the author’s gentle whimsy. He plays around the edges of life, nurturing growth wherever he discovers it. As a result, both his students and son learn to penetrate new worlds through the skill of reading.

NOTE: The title of the book comes from sixty-two year old Charles, a traveling salesman who only recognized the words hot dogs and hamburgers on menus in diners he frequented.

 

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