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Pravsi Dandu, reading about Obama at age 3

Beaverton tot already can read adult nonfiction


TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Pravisi Dandu with her parents at their Beaverton home. Shes already reading more books than they do.Three-year-old Pravsi Dandu’s mom and dad are regulars at the Beaverton City Library. They have around 50 books out at any one time.

But Sri Geethika Alluri is not a big book reader. A busy mother, she struggles to name a book she’s read for herself lately, eventually naming Michelle Obama’s “American Grown.”

Nor, for that matter, is Pravsi’s dad. Veera Dandu has a PhD in chemical engineering and works in research at Intel at Ronler Acres. He reads a lot, to be sure, but his efforts are focused on all the scientific papers he can find in the field of chemical mechanical planarization, plus information about semiconductor manufacturing required by his job.

All those books lined up on the selves are for Pravsi herself, books about astronaut Sally Ride, Apple founder Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Mohandas Ghandi and President Barack Obama.

Obama

There are plenty more on the next shelf, about Hello Kitty and various Disney characters, as well as stuffed animals.

At just 3 years and 2 months, Pravsi has a peculiar reading talent, one that is not just the work of overambitious parents. Every evening when her dad comes home, the three of them sit for an hour and Pravsi reads aloud from tomes such as Philip Steele’s kid-friendly book about Isaac Newton, Obama’s own “The Audacity of Hope,” or Stephen Krensky’s far easier 2010 biography of the president.

“We went to the library and Pravsi saw an image of Barack Obama. She asked, ‘Who is this?’ and we told her, the president of the U.S.,” her father said proudly. “Two days later, she saw one of his books, ‘Change We Can Believe In,’ and she asked for it and started reading everything. That was the first adult book. I was very surprised she read it.”TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - From biographies to fiction, Pravisi Dandu reads them all.

Until then, he had always looked for books aimed at kids about a year older than her.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have been that surprised. Veera Dandu and his wife have reconstructed the rate at which Pravsi’s reading has progressed. Like a good Intel engineer, he put it in table form.

At 6 months, she could point to and recognize animals in a baby animals book. She knew her colors and the alphabet at 17 months. At the age of 2, she was reading children’s books.

When librarians started confirming her talent, that’s when they had to consider how to handle their prodigy. As immigrants, Pravsi’s parents — they came from the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh — are still finding their way through the language and culture themselves.

Their native tongue is Telugu; Pravsi speaks it too. They have been in the United States six years, but they Skype with both sets of grandparents almost every day.

Since they have strong accents, they got the Dictionary.com app for their child. When Pravsi reads a difficult new word, she looks it up on the family tablet and listens to the pronunciation or asks her parents. That’s another way in which they were tipped off to her talent, and realized that the ability to sound out words in her tiny voice also comes with comprehension.

Kenya

Earlier this year, Pravsi was reading about Obama and came to her parents, asking them to show her where Kenya is on the globe.

But they had never told her Kenya was a place.

“When I asked her, she said that Obama’s father is from Kenya and she showed me the specific page and lines in the book,” her father said. “That’s when I realized that she is having a decent understanding of what she is reading at this age.”

Her father said he struggles to explain words in layman’s terms that she can understand. When she asked, “What is economy?” he said it means money. But she came back the next day wanting to know why another author used the word “money” when they could have used “economy.”

“What is independence?” was a bit easier. He told her about India’s independence from Britain.

Pravsi is a lot like any 3-year-old. She runs around her mother in circles, chattering and laughing. She gets an hour a day on their tablet, where she installs and uninstalls apps, such as preschool logic games. Her favorite cartoon characters are Minnie Mouse, who has a lot of merchandise available, and Peppa Pig, who is on TV a lot and has more appealing family dynamics.

Parent trap

Trying to persuade her to perform for strangers is more of a challenge. To encourage Pravsi, her father said, “Pravsi want a surprise? Pravsi want a surprise?” She usually does, and runs to the cupboard where the surprises are hidden.

After she relented, he explained her unwillingness to read was only because it would cut into her one hour of tablet play.

She got her “surprise” in the end, a small roll of Minnie Mouse Scotch tape, and carried it around with pride.

“I want her to play for four hours a day,” he adds. Writing, he said, can wait. “We’re going to get her into writing one year from now. We don’t want to stress her too much. She needs to play.”

“We don’t want to force her,” agreed Pravsi’s mother Sri. “We’re very happy for her age that she has this ability.”

They also stress how athletic the girl is. She’s a strong swimmer, and loves all the usual pleasures of the nearby park. The cul de sac where they live in Fuller View is deep suburbia, on the edge of farmland. Pravsi’s mornings consist of going out with her mother on errands, then coming home to play.

“The mom has trained her well; most of the credit should go to her mom,” her father said.

Sri is a software engineer who has taken a break from work to be home with their only child.

Science

But the scientist is also looking for other kinds of literacy.

Veera showed his daughter the periodic table this summer. Within a few days, she could tell the atomic number and symbols of the first 43 elements in the periodic table.

“In addition, she can tell the electronic configuration of the first 10 elements,” he said. “Once she sees something, she has something in her memory where she can display it.”

This September she started preschool 3 1/2 days a week.

Apparently, her teachers were impressed by the wonder kid.

“From the first day, whenever she cries for her mom and dad, they started giving her new books, and of course, she read the books with joy,” Veera said in an email.

“She’ll be good at math,” he adds with certainty. “When I give her logical number problems, she’s good at solving them.”

For example, he watched her solve the problem “2, 4, 6, X, 10” by writing out all the numbers from one to 10 and canceling the missing ones.

“I never told her to develop that,” he said. “She has that logic.”

And she puts that logic to work. He recalls how at the Apple store at the mall, Pravsi asked repeatedly. “Who bite the apple?” She’s already an Apple Watch fan-girl.

Another time, they were at the home of a work colleague who wore a T-shirt printed with the phrase “Catch Me if You Can.”

“She asked me, ‘Why he wrote it? Is he a thief?’ I was surprised at the way she’s thinking.”

Feelings

Although she can deal with some ideas, her parents found fiction more difficult. After all, it is illogical and focused on feelings. In the summer, she tried reading Harry Potter but had so many questions — “Why under the stairs? Why a broomstick?” — in the first few pages of the first book, they abandoned it.

Then in mid-September, they watched the first Harry Potter film.

“After the movie, she asked me to bring her Harry Potter book. She started reading the novel on Tuesday. Based on her reading speed and available time, she might finish the first book within a couple of weeks.”

Pravsi wants to know when the family will be able to go into outer space, but her new ambition is to be president. Her parents laugh, a little nervously. Mainly, they want her to enjoy herself until 10th grade.

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