February 18, 2009

The Gift of Reading

Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.

Arnold Lobel

I can still remember the moment I learned to read. It was winter and I had just turned four years old. I was sitting on the davenport that extended across one wall of my childhood living room. The upholstery was heavily textured and flecks of gold were woven into its steely blue background. An elderly woman whom I called Aunt Irene (the sister of my mother's stepfather) was sitting next to me and a large children's book was spread across both of our laps. The light from a table lamp illuminated the pages of colored illustrations and text.

Irene Donahue was a retired, spinster school teacher from Chicago. She was not a favorite of my mother, but for some reason (perhaps to escape the bitter cold of Chicago) she had come to visit us in California. I don't know why she decided to teach me to read, but I remember clearly the sensation of beginning to read. It was exhilarating to point to a word, read it, and understand its meaning as well as its place in a sentence. Even at that young age I sensed that reading was powerful.

Although I don't have any particular memories of anyone in my family reading out loud to me at home, I know that we had bookcases full of books. My older sisters had sets of the Happy Hollisters, The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Laura Ingalls Wilder books and my personal favorites, the books of Louisa May Alcott. As a non-reader I imagine I liked those books the best because they were filled with delicately painted illustrations. I could barely lift the copy of Little Women, but I could follow the story through the pictures of Jesse Wilcox Smith and pretend I was a reader.

I don't have to pretend to be a reader anymore, but every once in awhile I find a beautifully illustrated book that reminds me of my early favorite from Louisa May Alcott. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. The cost of production makes books like this one a rarity. A gift to be read and treasured.

1 comment:

cindy : quaint said...

thank you so much for your comment on the messenger bag - we're going to work on it next week :).

i love your blog and don't read nearly as much as i used to. i think you will inspire me to step away from this machine and open up a book.

have a nice weekend!