(Photo courtesy of www.dalsabzi.com)
On the first day of kindergarten, my niece Eliza came home in tears. I took her in my lap for a cuddle, wondering what awful thing had occurred to mar this very first brush with higher education. “Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked.
She threw her head back and wailed. “They didn’t teach me how to READ!”
I wish I could remember when I first learned to read, but I can’t. Given how important writing has become to me, it seems wrong that I can’t recall that magical moment when everything gelled and I realized that letters formed words, words build books, and books meant reading.
I have a vague recollection of being read to from Doctor Seuss and the Little Golden Books, although no one memory stands vivid among the rest. If my folks were sitting down, it was a rare occasion when they didn’t have a book in hand. For Mom, it was mysteries — Mary Roberts Reinhart, Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Ellis Peters — while Dad buried himself in westerns (predominately Louis L’Amour) and science fiction (Edgar Rice Burroughs and Lin Carter were favorites). Their obvious enjoyment of the written word was a good example for me and sparked my curiosity. What was so interesting in those books, anyway?
However the skill came to me (Mrs. Kirkpatrick in first grade, perhaps?), once I grasped the rudiments, I was off and running. I suffered through the insipid Dick-Jane-Sally-Spot-Puff readers required by the school system, sped through every Seuss book (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” remains a favorite), and moved on to the Bobbsey Twins. I wanted to be Nan Bobbsey in the worst way until I discovered the adventurous Robin Kane, who was incredibly cute, outstandingly smart, and had her own horse.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
I remember with pride my very first library card. The library was a nameless edifice built into the (then) new Colonie Center shopping mall. Once a week, Mom and I would drive to Colonie to shop, have lunch in the delicatessen, and (best of all) peruse books. We always emerged laden, but every book was devoured by the time the next visit rolled around.
I think my parents were eager for me to learn to read because if I was reading, I wasn’t bothering them. They could give me a stack of books with the assurance that I would go off and curl up with them and not show my nose again until they’d been gone through beginning to end. When the Scholastic company brought their book fair to school, I was in hog heaven. You mean I can actually BUY books and OWN them?!
Key to the Treasure by Peggy Parish. Black and Blue Magic. Andy Buckram’s Tin Men. Steel Magic by Andre Norton. Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind and Misty of Chincoteague. Everything by Albert Payson Terhune and Ernest Thompson Seton. Wizard of Oz, A Christmas Carol, and Oliver Twist. Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Moomin books of Tove Jansson. Peter Pan by my beloved J.M. Barrie. Pym (or was it Pim? Anyone who can get me a lead on this book — about a mischievous fairy — will have my gratitude). Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle.
And that is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
I’m more grateful than I can say for this ongoing affair with books. Some I have loved so well that I wish I could spread the words out on the floor and roll in them like an eager dog with a bit of stink-pretty. Others, not so much. A rare few I have hurled across the room. Even fewer are those I’ve consigned to the dust bin.
But each, in its time, has taught me something about myself and the world in which I live. Each has taught me a bit more about the art (and work) of writing. Each has its place in my heart.