One of the greatest pleasures in life is watching someone begin to read and enjoy words. It happens so fast, like magic. Back in November, my grandson was accomplished with his name, a few phrases, and lots of words on sight. Now, just half a year later, he can pick up most items, books, comics, cereal boxes, directions, menus, and figure out most of the words and the rest from context. He sits on the couch, wrapped up in his new Garfield book, and studies it intently.
While I watch him, I wonder…Of all the words swirling around in his world, which ones will he look back to in fifty years? Who are the authors who have created the images, phrases, poems, and scenes that he will use when choices he must make are murky, maddening, or dangerous?
Right now, he refers to Piggy and Elephant who learn to share ice cream, The Magic School Bus and how poop is made, and The Lorax who saves the Truffula trees. In five, ten, fifteen years, will he discover writers who touch his soul the way others have touched mine?
I can’t wait for when the time is right to share pieces that changed my life:
When I was seven, reading Gulliver’s Travels (understanding the words but not the concepts…How did he put out that fire in Lilliput anyway…just because they brought him all their barrels of ale?) I was so proud when I was done because the type was so small! I thought it had something to do with Lilliputians.
When I was 10 and sneaked a peek at the medical book my mom told me not to read. (The only one in the house barred to me.) Of course, I opened up to the most gruesome picture. A woman with a huge goiter. I can still see it! That’s when I realized that my mom’s censorship was only for something she knew I wouldn’t like.
When I was eleven and read my brother’s copy of Lord of the Flies and realized I could hate a book. It happened again when I was seventeen with The Scarlet Letter. In 32 years of teaching, I was so happy I didn’t have to teach either. (Writing was fantastic…concepts made me furious!)
With 1984, I realized that a government that seemed benign could destroy you…and that books did not have happy endings. With Grapes of Wrath, I learned that the people my peers scorned as “Okies” had brilliance, passion, and deserved justice. Emily Dickinson taught me that a shy, plain woman could stay inside her cloistered walls, but her words would not. From Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, when I laughed along with the shoe salesman (He closed up shop so he could run with the boy in new tennis shoes) I discovered that you really never have to grow old. I think that’s the piece that touches me now the most…as I watch my little boy curled on the couch, giggling about a fat cat and spider sandwiches.