A Book a Day
February 14, 2011 § 5 Comments
When we moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1959, the summer before my sophomore year in high school, I was excited. I loved discovering new places and making new friends!
In September—David had already left for college—Sarah walked to Barrett Junior High, across the street from our house, and I boarded the city bus to Atherton High, near downtown.
But Atherton wasn’t what I had expected and I soon realized I didn’t fit in. I hadn’t come into the school from a “feeder” junior high, so I was in the “left over” homeroom—we were “the others”. Because we’d all transferred from non-Louisville schools, we didn’t stay together for our core classes or have the same lunch hour either. Therefore, after homeroom we never saw each other again … so much for making new friends fast!
And I won’t even talk about the unofficial dress code. Who knew I should have filled my wardrobe with A-line khaki or navy skirts, white round-collar blouses, circle pins and Bass Weejuns? In Texas white suede loafers were all the rage!
By the third day I’d become tired of lunching alone. When I arrived at school that morning I went straight to the library for a book to read while eating. By the end of my senior year I had read through most of the library—I was reading a book a day—and the lunch reading group had grown to five tables in the middle of the cafeteria.
Funny thing, though, about my love of reading—I was and am still a poor reader … I should say a poor ‘performance’ reader. When asked to read aloud in first grade—Hubbard Heights Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas—I used to get so nervous. I knew I would make a mistake and then Mrs. Silk would say “You don’t read as well as David, do you?”
Embarrassed by my stumbling over words, her comparing me to my older brother just made matters worse. Oh, I wasn’t in the lowest reading group, but I wanted to be a blue bird, not a cardinal! Throughout elementary school I did poorly on—and even failed some—reading comprehension tests. Because I was too nervous to concentrate, I never finished one! I was a terrible reader and I knew it. I grew to hate reading class, and thus reading. In Sunday School I always volunteered to pray—no way was I going to read the King James Version out loud!
The summer between 6th grade and junior high, Mother offered us each $1 to read a book. She gave me one of her girlhood favorites, Elsie Densmore by Martha Finley—I don’t recall which one of the series. I never earned that dollar. I couldn’t—or wouldn’t—finish the book! Of course, I was a wretched reader—hadn’t that been proved o’er and o’er?
Then, in 7th grade at Rosemont Junior High I was relegated to the ‘needs help reading’ English class. That’s not what they called it, but we all knew! About the second week into the semester, my English teacher called me to his desk.
“You have two study halls, I believe? Mine and another in the afternoon?” He had a rather mincing voice and a sarcastic tone I couldn’t appreciate!
“Yes, sir.” I quaked in my Keds. Was he giving me another study hall? Was I that bad?
“The librarian needs another student worker during our morning study hall, and I thought you might like to do that. How about it?”
I was floored. Me? Work in the library? Wow! He thought I could do that? “Yes, sir!”
“Okay, I’ll inform the office. Report to the librarian next period.”
I loved working in the library. Each week, when the new books came in, I helped catalogue and prepare them for the shelves. I became adept at shellacking the hardback covers and painting Dewey decimal numbers on the spines. And if a book looked interesting, I got to read it first. I discovered that I loved reading and I’ve had a book-a-day habit since the first day in that library!
I still stumble over words when reading aloud. Even now I always practice before critique group each week.
I never finished a reading comprehension test until my freshman year in college, and was greatly surprised when I did. That Frosh week entry exam put me in an advanced English literature class, with an emphasis on creative writing.
Now, when asked why I write for children and not for adults, this is my answer: I want kids to love reading as I do. I want them to know that they can learn anything, as long as they can read!