I thought a lot about what memory I wanted to write about. I've written a fair bit about my childhood recently and I don't want to bore anyone with repetition. So I tried to find something that I haven't told many people, and I think I found just the thing. I want to tell you about how I started reading and writing. The bonus is that most of my childhood was spent doing those two things, so I think it tells a lot about who I am and how I got this way.
I said in the Draw My Life post that both of my parents were constant readers and that our house was full of books. I was always fascinated by them. I remember sitting on my mother's lap when I was little more than a baby, looking at the words on the page of the book she was reading. My older brother is ten years older than I am, so he had a lot of books too when I was little, and I constantly pulled his books out to look at them. He hated it, as I'm sure you can imagine.
My parents read to me all the time too, not just to themselves. Sometimes they would read my books to me and sometimes they would just read their own books aloud, but either way I heard things being read every single day. I began loving books too. I don't remember this part, but my mother says that, from the time I was old enough to express it, I wanted a new book every single time we went to the store. (Some things never change.) And because my parents loved books themselves, they bought them for me as often as they could. I still have two of those grocery store books, the two that I loved the most. They were read to me so many times that I've literally been able to quote them, in their entirety, all my life. I still can. Crazy, huh?
I got those books when I was about two, and around the same time I also got a new toy box that had the alphabet across the front of it. (I couldn't find a photo of it, but this is an ad for it that was in the Nashua (NH) Telegraph on Monday, October 18, 1976.) I was, predictably, obsessed with those letters. I talked about them constantly and ran my fingers over them and asked my parents to name them for me over and over. My mom taught me the ABC song so I could do it myself, but I didn't make the connection between those shapes and the ones that I'd seen in books until, when I was three, I asked my mother what the letters were for. She told me that you put them together to make words and then she showed them to me in a book. This was very exciting news for tiny me! It began the next phase of driving my parents crazy by asking them constantly to tell me the sounds that each letter made.
Finally my father bought some phonics workbooks and some flashcards and began to work with me in a more organized way in the evenings. I remember how the books looked and playing games with the flashcards, but I have no independent memory of how old I was or how long it took. According to my parents, it was when I was about 3 1/2, and within a couple weeks I was reading simple words on my own. From that point on, there was no stopping me.
I'd seen my parents write the letters as they taught me about them, and I wanted to do it too. It took me a little while to get the hang of writing, I imagine because my fine motor skills weren't quite ready for it, but my mom helped me with it off and on, at my own insistence. By the time I was four, maybe 4 1/2, I could write pretty much anything I could spell. And I was always a pretty good speller, so that didn't give me a huge challenge either.
My cousins had some Dick and Jane books, the standard of the period, but I had little patience for those because there was no story. I mean, there was, sort of, but because I'd been exposed to actual stories all my life, it was too simplistic for me even at that age. A whole "story" might consist of Dick and Jane leaving the house to go to school. Not waking up and getting ready, not the walk to school, not talking to friends or even each other. Just... leaving the house. "Dick must go. Jane must go. See? Dick and Jane go to school. Dick and Jane will run. Run, Dick! Run, Jane! Yes, we will run. Goodbye, Mother! Goodbye, Spot! Oh, see Dick and Jane run!" Mind. Numbing.
|Sadly, I'm not even exaggerating.|
Fortunately, my parents had the good sense to get me better books than that. I started with picture books, of course. Lots of Little Golden Books but, alas, I don't have those anymore. I progressed through increasingly complex books, and by the time I was in first grade I was reading simple chapter books like The Bobbsey Twins.
This particular one is what I was reading the day my father nearly choked on his tongue when I asked him what a word meant. I couldn't understand for many years what was so funny about a word that just meant "exclaimed".
I still loved looking at my brother's books, but now I could actually read the words so they were even better. I especially liked looking through his nonfiction books because I was fascinated by the information in them. I guess I've always liked learning new things. These are just a couple of the ones I read during those years. I can't begin to guess how many others there were...
... or what I might have learned from them that we now know isn't quite correct. It's amazing how much our understanding of things has changed just in my lifetime.
I did tell my parents about it, though, and they lobbied with the teachers to let me read independently and take comprehension tests to find my correct level. Because I was attending an open classroom school, that wasn't a big problem. I eventually tested almost two years ahead of my expected level, and I was much happier with school when I was allowed to do my own thing. That attitude, incidentally, has persisted throughout my life. The schools I attended in 7th through 12th grades were self-paced and I thrived in them, and in college I've always been more comfortable in self-paced or independent study classes than in traditional ones.
When I was in second grade, I read Planes for Bob and Andy -- 340 pages! -- which had belonged to my brother and was passed down to me. It's cool because it's a story but it also teaches a lot of stuff about how airplanes work. I still love it, and it also contains a nice example of the fact that I've always written in my books. (Actually several of the books I've featured contain the same sort of thing, but this one was the clearest when photographed.) From the time I learned how to write decently, I always put my name and address in my books. I certainly didn't want to lose them!
My aunt gave me a copy of Heidi for my eighth birthday, and it became the first book to make me cry. I took it on vacation and one morning in a hotel I woke up before anyone else in my family so I took it and sat below the window so I could read in the sunlight that came in at the bottom of the blackout curtain. I clearly remember sitting there, under the little table that hotel rooms often have, with tears running down my face as I read about poor Heidi's homesickness. I was shocked that a book could do that, but it only made me crave them more.
The year I was in fourth grade, my father bought me a set of biographies, twelve of them. I devoured them and loved every bit. I still have all of them; I just grabbed a random few for the picture.
My next obsession was the Trixie Belden series. I had a lot of the books but, sadly, the copies I had were poorly bound and only one has survived. It's in pretty bad shape too. I loved Trixie Belden because I could relate to her, because I thought the mysteries were great and, perhaps more important to me at that time, because I would have married the tragic young hero, Jim Frayne, in an instant!
This is just a tiny sampling of the books I read as a kid. In addition to the ones I owned -- which was a lot, even as a child -- my father worked at a library for about five years and I spent many hours of many days there. I read literally every book in the children's section (admittedly, it was small, since it was a university library, not a public one, but still) and then moved on to bigger and better things. I was rarely seen without a book in front of me, but the ones I've mentioned have had a lot of impact on my life and on my current reading habits. I still like nice, long, complex stories. I still like stories that teach me things, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. I still like to be challenged, both intellectually and emotionally, by my books. I still like being able to make notes in my books. And most of all, I still just love books of almost every kind.
So that's my childhood reading story. Remember to leave your questions and comments below. I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested, you can also find me on Twitter.
Thanks again for reading! If you haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are:
Jill, Kristina, Frieda & Amy
And that's it from me on this Sunday. Best wishes! <3