No child ever wanted to learn to read more than I did. . .here, my brother Larry is reading the funny pages to me and our dog, Wrinkles.
I have loved books all my life. My mom used to read to me so much that she finally put some of the stories on tape (reel-to-reel). This was in Germany.
Of course, that wasn't the same as having my mom read to me, and I was always calling her to come from the other room to listen to the story with me.For our birthdays in Kassel (1952), Larry and I celebrated together because we were moving. The Coxes gave us books: Larry received the Second Better Homes and Gardens Story Book and I received a Mother Goose and story book. I borrowed Larry's book all the time to look at the pictures. My favorite story in that book was "Puss n Boots." When I later found a copy of that book at a second-hand store in Ventura in 1999, I bought it and brought it home for my library.
Larry started school, but I was too young to go. I sat in the swings in our backyard in Clairmont, wishing I could go to school too. The only highlight of those days was the arrival of the Helm's Bakery Truck (toot toot!) and the choice of a glazed doughnut. Once we moved back to Imperial Beach, even though Larry had school and I didn't, Mama and I spent time at the beach or at Grandmother's house, and I didn't mind so much.
No one really had time to teach me to read. I picked up the readers our friends, the Coxes, sent to us: parochial school books with stories that looked so appealing. There was a story about Rosa learning to speak English (flag, red) and one about a pioneer girl who lost the family's only needle. An Indian helped her to find it. But then I could only look at the pictures and find a few words: the, girl, dog--and I would spend whole mornings looking for those particular words in the books. When I found one, I would run in to tell my mom, "See, I can read!"
Once first grade came, opening the wonders of phonics and reading to me, I was off on a headlong dash into the world of books. I read everything, even if I couldn't get it all. I read Post and Life magazines, school books, and picture books. I memorized all the verses of "Wee Willie Winkie" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Hot Cross Buns."
There was never a child more eager to read!On one visit to Grandmother's house, I discovered my Aunt Linda's Bobbsey Twin books. I read all of those, not minding that every adventure followed a formula: Bert and Nan had a secret or a secret project and Freddie and Flossie would get lost. I loved those Bobbsey Twins and wished that Larry and I could have been twins. I vowed that I would have twins when I got older.From the Bobbsy Twins, it was a short jump to Nancy Drew. Even though I was annoyed by the old-fashioned wording, calling a car a "roadster," for example, I loved Nancy's adventurous spirit and her keen mind. I also admired her friends and her boyfriend. I remember the episode when Nancy is given her engagement ring and how she disliked it because it was a ruby, not a diamond, but then it turned out that he was the wrong man for her to marry anyway!
I read all of the Children's Classics, loving Black Beauty, Tom Sawyer, the Arabian Nights, and Robin Hood. How I cherished Robin Hood, Little John, and Friar Tuck, and how I loathed that awful Sheriff of Nottingham! I didn't ever like Alice in Wonderland or Robinson Crusoe. (When my books got lost in the move to Florida, I mourned them. I can still smell their leathery covers and feel their glossy pictures. I bought a new set by asking the librarian at my first teaching assignment if she could find them for me.)The horse and dog phase struck me too.
The best horse book is not "Black Beauty," but "The Horsemasters." In that book, a girl learns to love what she has been given instead of pining after things others have, always thinking the grass is greener and someone else's horse is better.I wanted to check out "The Last of the Mohicans" in fourth grade, but the librarian wouldn't let me. She said it would be too hard for me. The nerve!Trying to read things like Tennyson's "Idylls to the King" (a book I had bought at the second-hand store down by the sloughs.) I thought then that maybe I would become a writer.
In 7th grade, my English teacher, Miss Kulka, let us buy books from the Scholastic Book Club. I spent all of my babysitting money on books. I bought and read Edgar Allan Poe's poems and short stories. "Lygeia" is the first story by Poe that I tried to read. I loved all the teenage love stories, such as those written by Betty Stolz. The first one I ever read, "Two's Company," I read lying on the lawn on Evergreen Avenue in Imperial Beach on a summer's day. I think I was supposed to be weeding the crabgrass, but I took a rest reading that book and never did finish my assigned patch of lawn that day. The book is about a girl who pre-judges others and is always assuming the worst about them.Next, I began to read all the Sue Barton books. I assumed I was going to become a nurse by then. I enjoyed the stories about the student nurses, their little caps and their rituals with pins and Candy Stripers. One episode took Sue to France where she helped a perfume maker. After that, I thought I would become a chemist and a perfume maker!
The book that most influenced my junior high thinking was "Now That I'm Sixteen." It was the perfect teen love story. The girl was shy; the boy was outgoing. But he chose her! She lost him by feeling so insecure. She is mean to her only friend, trying to fit in with the social group. When she didn't make Honor Society because she was too involved in just studies and had no activities, she makes a change and decides to try being more outgoing. She reaches out to Chip, the boyfriend she had lost, and they walk together to 5th period class, holding hands even though that was against the rules at their school. Ah romance!
All the other kids in junior high might have complained about reading a book for a book report or for our vocabulary cards, but my problem was narrowing down to one out of all the books I had read!The summer before 9th grade, Larry and I had moved to Chula Vista to live with my father, Ted, and his new wife, Gene. Larry worked all day and went out with his friends at night. I had no friends that summer, so I read and read and read. Each week, I would go to the Chula Vista Library and pick out 10 books. I read historical fiction written for teens more than any other genre. I loved the stories of settling in places like Idaho. I can still recall the description of one ranch in Idaho below the Sawtooth Mountains on a crisp fall day.That summer, I perfected the art of lying on an air mattress in the pool with a book in front of me. Luckily, I never dropped a book into the pool!In high school, I read all of Thomas Wolfe's long books: "You Can't Go Home Again," "Look Homeward, Angel," and "The Web and The Rock." I was determined to read all the challenging books our English teacher, Mrs. Bauer, recommended. I thought I disliked her (she was so hard!), but I did admire her intellect. Mr. Dayton, the fearsome seniors' teacher, came into the classroom during my oral report on "Look Homeward, Angel." I think he was impressed.Since I didn't drive yet, I didn't have much access to a library in Missouri when I spent my junior year of high school there. I spent most of that year writing letters rather than reading books. Once I came home to San Diego for my senior year, it was back to books. I discovered Michener through "Hawaii" and Leon Uris and even Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina."
No wonder I was an English major: to spend four years getting "paid" in units to read all the books I ever dreamed of reading! UCLA was heaven. During finals to reward myself for finishing an exam, I would read a book from a list I had of great books I hadn't read yet. That's when I read "Gone with the Wind" and "Exodus."A teaching career in English followed, as I struggled to enthrall a new generation with the the depth of love I have for books. I found lots of takers and a few nay sayers. One boy told me years later when he subbed for me, "I had never read a whole book before your class." He had majored in English. I am proud of all my students for their individual successes, but that one was particularly sweet.