A little over a year ago, when Lilly Gaskin's uncle, Brady Knight, got his LDS mission call to Taiwan, Lilly's mom and dad, Nikki and James, pointed to Taiwan on a map in their home in Provo and asked, "Where's Brady going on his mission?" to see if she was paying attention.
Man, was she.
Not only did Lilly correctly identify Taiwan, she also pointed to Japan, Australia and several other countries her parents had showed her, and she pronounced their names right.
Did I mention Lilly was 16 at the time? ... 16 months?
Introducing Utah's latest wunderkind. The girl who makes David Archuleta look like an old-timer. She's about 2 feet tall, weighs maybe 20 pounds, and she's already the star of her own YouTube video "Lilly the World Map Master" and has been on more national TV than the Jazz.
She did "20-20" and "Rachael Ray" last fall, and today she'll be on "Oprah" as part of a show devoted to talented and gifted kids. Check her out. She's the one correctly showing Oprah all the countries in Africa.
The "Oprah" show was taped three weeks ago in Chicago, and Nikki and James report that Lilly was nothing short of spectacular, if they do say so themselves.
"The rehearsal didn't go that great," says her dad, a BYU graduate student. "But when it was time for the real thing, she heard that crowd, and she was on."
Lilly, who is now 2 1/2, can correctly identify more than 120 countries, or basically two-thirds of the Earth, and she's working on the other third. And that's not all. She has also committed to memory a fair number of songs, movies and, at last count, 31 children's books. She knows "Green Eggs and Ham," for instance, by heart, all 62 pages.
But she hasn't mastered everything yet. She can't read and she's still in diapers.
"She's very 2," says her maternal grandmother, Diane Knight, who runs a preschool and knows a thing or two about identifying children's ages.
Her paternal grandfather, Thomas Gaskin, is a pediatric neuropsychologist, and his diagnosis, according to James, "is she's an extremely cute granddaughter with an uncanny knack for memorizing."
"Be careful what you say around her," warns James. "Because you'll hear it right back."
In trying to figure out how Lilly got so good at memorizing so early, the only thing Nikki and James can point to is the inordinate amount of time they, especially her mother, spent reading to her since the first day she took a breath.
"I think me staying home with her probably made a difference," says Nikki. "I don't think she's some kind of one-in-a-million phenom. I think most kids have abilities we maybe don't tap into, but we could if we showed enough interest in their interest."
"But until she was 16 months old, we had no idea," confess the still stunned parents who have been to New York and Chicago, all expenses paid, and met Oprah! all because their 2-year-old daughter can distinguish Laos from Cambodia and correctly identify all the "Stans.""People come up to me and say, 'Aren't you Lilly's dad?"' says James. "And I tell them, 'Yep, that's me."'
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.