For various reasons his parents had less time or inclination to spend looking at books. Of course, tales were told but more often by TV than by family. By the time Dan was 4, a gap of 32 million words separated him from Matilda. He had less experience of labelling the world. The realisation that everything has its own name (dawning on Matilda at 18 months) came later to Dan. By the time he began school his ability to connect and integrate information from several systems – vision, cognition and language – to make something new was undeveloped.

Dan had little exposure to discussions about print and its specific mores, the development of concepts such as sentence and narrative structure, the difference between words and sentences, title and author, in his pre-school years. Dan took a long time to understand that words can be segmented into syllables and sounds, to learn grapheme-phoneme correspondence, to understand the notion that each letter has both a letter name and a sound or group of sounds that it represents. He never became a fluent reader in the sense that Wolf describes:
Fluency is not a matter of speed; it is a matter of being able to utilise all the special knowledge a child has about a word – its letters, letter patterns, meanings, grammatical functions, roots and endings – fast enough to have time to think and comprehend. Everything about a word contributes to how fast it can be read. The point of being fluent, therefore, is to read – really read – and understand.
Dan could not be described as a literate person in the traditional sense of the word even at the end of his school career. He had no qualifications and little prospect of employment. He found it impossible to fill in an application form or read an article to find a job. He could have drifted into petty crime like his brother who had found that, with a criminal record, his future did not appear to offer many alternatives other than repeat offending.