Life in between the pages

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“Quite often somebody will say, what year do your books take place? and the only answer I can give is, In childhood.” Beverly Cleary

 

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A few key moments can shape a child’s love of scholarship. The first day of school, the teacher that either treats you unfairly or gives you wings, and in my personal experience my first trip to the library. According to my mother, I am a self-taught reader and had a book in hand from the time I was three years old. I would regularly hoist the family Bible from its perch atop of the dining room side table, and "read" for hours. That determination paid off because by the time I entered Kindergarten I was reading at a first-grade level. Reading was exciting, it offered a very shy and introverted little girl new worlds and adventures. Through reading, I learned empathy and compassion and gained confidence. 

Housed in a little white trailer, detached from the main building stood our school library. The kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Richter, would take us once a week to choose a book. My first librarian Mrs. Purden would read to us. I discovered the magic of everything from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak to Hop on Pop by Dr. Suess. I'd watch her in total wonder as she turned each page with a rubber thimble that rested on her right index finger. She was everything I wanted to be, surrounded by endless words and pages. This love of reading carried me through childhood into my adolescence and on to adulthood. When the world was, uncertain books were constant friends offering up their comfort through each chapter.

By second-grade chapter books had made their way onto my bookshelf. My first chapter book was Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read two to three books a day, sometimes laying on the top bunk reading well into the night with only the light from our bathroom illuminating the pages. Third grade introduced me to the world of an eight-year-old girl named Ramona Quimby. Reading the words of Beverly Cleary expanded my fervor from consumption to creation, there was an undiscovered enthusiasm for writing that was unexpected. I never believed I had anything to say until experienced Ramona’s confidence in her own thoughts and actions. 

Mrs. Cleary is quoting in saying “Children should learn that reading is, not just something that teachers make you do in school." Her views on reading and literacy are felt in each book, and her commitment to writing for an audience of third and fourth graders is special. I must have reread that book over 30 times and it currently has a home in my library. Ramona, Age 8 and Ramona the Pest are two books I share with the children in my life to encourage their own connection with literature. Reading about the misadventures of Ramona Quimby in my adulthood reminds me that we never stray far from our eight-year-old selves. If we are honest with ourselves, we still want the lives of our third-grade imagination when we dreamed of lives that possessed more color.