Growing up, I was immersed in rich literature. We were read to since we were little, my siblings and me. After I learned how to read, I remember struggling to read on my own at first, it felt like so much work. When my parents were on a week long vacation to the U.S. Virgin Islands, I stayed at my grandma’s house. I found a copy of Little House on the Prairie. I remembered my mom reading it to me when I was two when we had been staying with my grandparents as we made the transition moving from out of state, and during that time, my mom read to my sister and me Little House on the Prairie, Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John, and The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Now at the age of nine, I picked up Little House on the Prairie and began reading. It was slow going, but I was determined to read it. I tended to read every word carefully. It didn’t make me a fast reader, but I remembered most of what I read vividly, as the words on the page formed pictures in my imagination.
The week at my grandparent’s was over and I took the book home and finished it. I went to the Library and got Little House in the Big Woods. I read that. Then I read the rest of the books in the series. I think it took me the better part of two years to finish the series. But it was those books that made me a reader.
I think there was almost something magical that I experienced too. If Laura Ingalls Wilder could write about herself, then there was no reason why I couldn’t also aspire to be a writer.
I remember at the age of seven pretending to write stories and pretending my job was being a storyteller. I think I imagined I was on the radio. Instead of watching TV, we grew up listening radio drama, reading books, being read to. My dad read to us every night after supper, and often again at bedtime. My mom read to us during the day. Besides books, we sang together. We listened to music. Books and music were some of our favoirte pass-times in my growing up years.
My mom had also grown up being inspired by wonderful books. Her mom passed on to us many of the wonderful books that my mom read. Whenever we visited her parents, my grandpa would sit down and read to us. Sometimes it was Norman the Doorman by Don Freeman. Sometimes it was Buzztail, about a rattlesnake. Often it was One Morning in Maine, and Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey. When my mom’s parents came up to visit us, I remember going to the library and checking out other children’s books by Robert McCloskey to have on hand for grandpa to read to us. I remember bringing home Burt Dow, Deep Water Man and asking grandpa to read it to us. It seems as though he had never heard of that one. But read it, he did.
We grew up on Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne (said miln), The Peter Rabbit stories by Beatrix Potter, Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski, and many others. I remember Snow Tracks by Jean Craighead George–an endearing story about a boy who trudges through the snow leaving tracks behind, and the captivating mouse called Chief Half-an-Ear.
As I got older, I would go to the library and check out books for myself. Because of the wonderful literature I grew up with, I knew how to select other beautiful works. My grandma also kept a supply of books coming. I remember my sister picking out a book about Daniel Boone. She read it and then handed it to me. I devoured it. We had a habit of her reading a book, giving me pieces of what happened, and then I would have to read up to that part and fill in the details she hadn’t told me. It felt like such an intriguing way to encounter the books we read. Sometimes we read sitting next to each other, her reading usually ahead of me, and me reading somewhere else in the book with the pages standing up between us. Sometimes I would start a book, tell her what was happening in it. She would read next to me at the beginning of the book and soon pass me in the book and I would be reading behind her.
It was not uncommon for me to go hide in my room with a book. If I was found too easily, I would hide in my small closet and read with a flashlight. Or under the stairs. Or outside. My ideal job would be getting paid to read good books.
At twelve, I read Treasure Island with a dictionary by my side. I think I jumped several reading levels when I did. I had gotten the idea from another book by my grandma called Twins in South Africa. There were two in this series I read, Twins in Australia and Twins in South Africa. I seem to recall being more intrigued by the story in Twins in Australia, but got the idea about the Dictionary from Twins in South Africa. These books were about twelve year old twins, if I am remembering correctly. As I’m writing it, I remember that before those books I had to have read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, because I was twelve and it was just after my youngest brother was born. My mom got My Side of the Mountain for my older sister and me to read as a thank you for the help we gave her when our brother was born.
After reading Treasure Island, I read other books by Robert Louis Stevenson. I read Men of Iron by Howard Pyle and went on a Howard Pyle tangent. I read Robin Hood by Howard Pyle, and then I read another Robin Hood by E. Charles Vivian. I would often go on a tangent. If I read Treasure Island, I might spend months on books by Stevenson. If I read Howard Pyle, I would read books by Howard Pyle for months. If I found that one author had a book about Robin Hood, and so did another author, I would often go from one Robin Hood Book to another. But sometimes, my interests changed directions and I would move from my interest in Robin Hood legends to my interest in the Tartans of Scotland. My interests varied so much that I never had time to read everything I wanted to. I have yet to read Howard Pyle’s The Boy’s King Arthur. While I have started Otto of the Silver Hand, I still have to finish it. I plan to do that with my kids. [One of my kids went through a stage of picking out people in books and movies who had prosthetic hands, including Otto of the Silver Hand and Luke Skywalker.] I could never read fast enough to keep up with my interests. I still have this problem.
This took me into other areas of interest. Many of the books by Stevenson were illustrated by N.C. Wyeth (said WHY-eth). This took me to other books illustrated by Wyeth, such as Robinson Crusoe. I read many survival stories, like The Swiss Family Robinson. Stevenson remained perhaps my favorite author for his ability to put words and plot together. Only later when I was an adult did I discover The Count of Monte Cristo, and found that Alexander Dumas had outdone Stevenson’s plots in this single book.
I read A Girl of the Limberlost, and then read about butterflies and moths, and checked out multiple field guides to identify various species. I enjoyed checking out multiple field guides and finding which publisher’s style grabbed my attention the most. Grandpa told me that as a boy growing up in Montana, his teacher would read every afternoon after recess for fifteen minutes aloud, and it was during one of these after recess read aloud times that he heard A Girl of the Limberlost. He spoke of it with affection. Is it any wonder that he later moved to the Wabash River Valley to paint the landscapes of Indiana prairie?
When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad handed my Carry On, Mr Bowditch. He told me I would enjoy it. I said I wouldn’t. But inevitably, I picked it up, and read it. And proceeded to begin writing an index for the book so I could quickly refer to the parts I enjoyed. I went to the library and asked the librarian to get the American Practical Navigator (known as the Navigator’s Bible) by Nathaniel Bowditch, inter-library loan. I didn’t understand much of it, but looked at the charts it contained and kept it until I had to return it. Reading took me to places I would never have explored otherwise.
I read the Elsie Dinsmore books I could get my hands on. I only read four or five, because at the time I couldn’t afford each book in the series of 28, and most of them expensive re-prints.
I read Five Little Peppers and How they Grew, and other Five Little Pepper books.
We read books with excellent writing, beautiful illustrations, and qualities that are worth aspiring to. I have many favorites. There are many books I have yet to read.
It is my desire to inspire others to experience such wonderful, rich literature. To be captivated by story. To experience the things stories teach us in a subtle way that sticks with us. I hope to inspire others by sharing what books have been so enjoyable to me.