I have been, as previously mentioned, an Anglophile since the age of approximately six. I have been a bibliophile for just about as long (no, relax, there won’t be a “phile” for every letter of the alphabet) and it has had an even bigger influence on who I am.
First grade reading in the 50’s consisted largely of “Fun With Dick and Jane,” and even at the tender age of six I was smart enough to know that fun it was not. But I was a good little do-bee (at that age, anyway) and I soldiered on, gagging my way through “Run, Spot, run” and “See Jane pat Puff.”
At home was another story. I did not have a tale telling childhood like Ol’P – but I had a living room filled with big, fat books with mystifying titles like Anna Karenina and Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples. And the Oz books. All of them. I had my own little Golden books in my room, of course, and my parents both read to me regularly, but boy, did I want to get my hands on those big books in the living room. I held them and turned their pages, able to identify a word here and a phrase there but not much more. And then, one magical day, I picked up The Wizard of Oz and read the first page. Every word of it. And understood it! I scrambled over to retrieve Anna Karenina from the shelf (I had a classmate named Anna) and read every word of its first page, too! Naturally, the comprehension of that one was pretty much nonexistent, so I happily returned to The Wizard and its fantastic world. A world of “other” and “out there.” And that was that. Hooked ever since.
In the ensuing nearly 60 years I can say that there has been only one two week period that I have not been engrossed in at least one book. That time was the two weeks following the birth of our first son. Neither of us had any experience with babies and no surviving female parent to rely on, so both of us were a tad overwhelmed. For some reason I felt that to be a good mom I must deny myself the escape into books that I so craved, even when the baby was fast asleep or his solicitous daddy was feeding him or holding him or just staring adoringly at him in his crib. So when not actively involved in child care, I essentially just sat bolt upright – waiting. For something. Fortunately, this period lasted only two weeks, or I would have gone starkers. With a deep sigh of relief I began to take advantage of the small but consistent lulls in active motherhood and returned to reading.
One of the reasons I decided to become a teacher when the boys hit school age (in addition to those great vacation times which remarkably coincided with when the boys were at home) was that I would be able to teach reading in addition to just doing it. I envisioned rows of rapt little faces soaking up my every word, thrilled beyond measure at learning to decipher those funny little squiggles on the page and to unlock the wonders of the written word. Ha, was I ever wrong! I started out teaching first grade, and discovered that “first” grade meant that “first” you had to catch ‘em in order to teach ‘em. And when I did round them up for a well planned lesson on the joy of reading, the inevitable responses were along the line of, “William looked at me,” or “I have to go to the bathroom,” or “When’s lunch?” Eventually I moved on up to teach 5th grade, where I was delighted to find that the kids’ attention span was often as long as 20 minutes, as opposed to the 30 seconds or so of a 1st grader. In 5th grade I discovered the wonders of D.E.A.R., a glorious invention that means “Drop Everything and Read” and had the additional bonus of actually being an accepted educational tool. Best of all, the teacher was supposed to read, too, to “model” the behavior and not just use the time to catch up on her reams of paperwork. I was pretty easygoing as a teacher, but was an absolute dictator of D.E.A.R. For that 20 minutes or so, the kids had better have a book and be reading it quietly or bad things would happen. As I decompressed with my own book, I would peek now and then at my blissfully quiet class. Of course there was that incredibly stubborn boy who refused to choose a book and thought he was getting away with something by reading the dictionary. (His vocabulary did improve as the year progressed – gotcha) But then there were those who were totally engrossed in their books, groaned when D.E.A.R. time was over, and clustered around me afterwards to ask questions or share something really cool that they had just read. I have to say that reading instruction is hugely important or I will be kicked out of the Guild of Gleefully Retired Teachers, but for me D.E.A.R. time was the best of all possible worlds.
And now, I have my own private D.E.A.R. time whenever I want. Which is now. So if you have actually read to the end of this overlong post you can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Thanks for reading, and joining me in my positive addiction.