Tell me how you first learned to read.
I am remembering the day I read a book the entire way through all by myself. It was the book, The Summerfolk by Doris Burn*. I was by myself and I seem to recall books on the floor all around me. The house was very quiet. Most of the family was out. I think it was after school in the afternoon. I remember being very engrossed in the story and the world around me seemed to disappear At the end of the book I closed it and realized I read the words all by myself. I remember how elated I felt! It was such an amazing feeling. It was the beginning of a whole new part of my life.
As I write this I am amazed at the detail I can recall during this event. I mentioned earlier that I have a hard time remembering certain things but those things that I do remember are with such stark clarity. I can almost take myself back to that moment.
Riding a bike was the same way. I was a little bit older than my friends by the time I was able to ride a bike; it didn’t click for me until I was in 2nd grade. It seems like my attempts at this ended in failure and I was more and more jealous of my friends when they gained this secret knowledge because it meant they were free to explore the farthest reaches of the neighboorhood. The day it clicked for me was a magic moment. Again, I was alone when this happened. It was in front of our house on our gravel street. It was a cloudy, chilly fall afternoon. After trying a few times it finally clicked for me and It was the most amazing feeling! I was so happy! I rode the shit out of that bike, too. All over the neighborhood.
*Doris Burn was an AMAZING children’s book illustrator. He medium was pen and ink and she drew intricate scenes of children doing interesting things. When I was little I would pore over the pages of her books for hours, looking at the illustrations. If you can get your hands on the 1969 edition of, “We Were Tired Of Living In A House” do it. That book is a reason why I learned to read so easily (and Richard Scarry played a part in that too. I heart Richard Scarry).
The training that I went to was about early literacy and the skills kids need to learn in order to read later on when they are in school. This training has made me think about my own experience as a child learning to read. My mom and older siblings used to read to me and my younger brother constantly and they probably naturally did the kinds of things that I try to do consciously as a children’s librarian planning and carrying out story time with these skills in mind.
I remember the exact day I read my first book by myself without help. I remember it very vividly and clearly. I was in 2nd grade and I was alone in my room looking at books. I used to pore over the illustrations in picture books and be entertained for hours by them. So I was by myself and looking at this picture book called The Summerfolk by Doris Burn. It had been read to me before and so I probably knew the story. But I remember closing the cover of that book and thinking to myself, “I just read this book by myself!” It was the first time I read the words of an entire book without any prompting from anyone. And it was the best feeling in the whole world. It was like something clicked in my brain and I just “got” it.
And the rest is history. I’ve had a book in my hand ever since.
I think the thing for me that really made it happen was that I was read to, and it was fun. My mom made reading fun at our house. She loved picture books and she loved reading them to us and it really showed.
I also think that spending time looking at the book’s illustrations really made it happen for me too. Like I said, I was fascinated by the illustrations in the books that we had around the house and LOVED to look at the pictures. (And while I’m on the subject, having books around the house was helpful too. They were there and accessible to me so I looked at them. )
But I want to get back to the illustrations. Being able to put together a story is SO important and for kids who are not able to decode words yet the illustrations are how they do that. And that is what I did. I am so grateful that I have a mom who instinctively knew this. And I have to stop right here and say that I’m really sad to read articles like this published in the New York Times.
When I was visiting my mom in April I was prowling around the house, looking at the old picture book collection (actually, I was looking for The Summerfolk) and I found Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever. I can’t even begin to tell you the happiness I felt looking at the pictures in this book. I remember spending hours looking at the illustrations in this book when I was a child. I’m not even sure I can express in words what I felt as I looked at this book as an adult. It was like I was 3 or 4 years old again and I was looking at these amazing pictures and they were funny and colorful and they made me think. I would put together stories in my mind about what was going on on the page. The thing that was so awesome about Scarry’s books was that he had stories going on in the illustrations, not just in the text. He was speaking directly to pre-readers with his books. How incredibly thoughtful of him.
I spent hours and hours looking at that book. I am so incredibly grateful, as an adult, to have had that experience because I know, without a doubt, that looking at Richard Scarry’s wonderful illustrations are what made me the avid reader I am today.