When I think back on my growing-up years, my most cherished memories are of the books that filled my life. I began to read in kindergarten and after I learned, it was a rare occasion I wasn’t reading a book. Curled up in a chair, lying flat on my bed, perched on a tree branch, riding in the car, at my desk in school—every location was the perfect place to read a book. I raced through The Black Stallion books, inherited from my father, and spent countless hours poring over the volumes of Grimm’s and Andersen’s fairy tales that had belonged to my mother. Christmas and birthday gifts always included beautiful hardcover books such as The Little Princess, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, and other classics. With my allowance, I bought myself the Nancy Drew mysteries that my library didn’t own and filled in the gaps in my collection of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books.
Each trip to the library resulted in a new stack of books to savor, the highlight of my week. Books by Beverly Cleary, sequels to Little Women, and The Scarlet Pimpernel were titles I borrowed over the years. Staying home sick in bed meant time to reread my favorite Narnia book. If I had to miss church, my parents would bring home Bible story books from the church library to keep me occupied for the afternoon.
Every time we moved, one of the first things I did was to set up the bookcase that my great-grandfather had built in my new bedroom. Made of dark, heavy wood and held together only by slots and pegs, the bookcase contained all of my treasured volumes and remained the focal point of my room.
However, it wasn’t merely the books that charmed me or the stories they contained. The truths they contained, the characters that became my friends, and the worlds to which they introduced me that were the real treasures.
My imagination grew as I traveled to fabulous places. I went to Wonderland with Alice and met the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Red Queen. Dorothy’s adventures in Oz drew me to a place where monkeys flew, lions talked, and terrifying tornadoes became vehicles to other worlds. I grew to love the English countryside of Mary Lennox and Rat, Mole, and Toad. The American woods and prairies, as described by Laura Ingalls Wilder, became my playground too, in my mind, while I longed to go to Narnia with Lucy and Edmund, Susan and Peter to meet Aslan, Mr. Tumnus, and the Beavers.
Also, the heroines inspired me with their character and strength . When I was feeling put upon by having to do chores around the house and yard, I would imagine myself a princess like Sara Crewe in A Little Princess. Instead of complaining about shoveling the walk, I would do it cheerfully as I thought Sara would do. Rather than whine about a dinner I didn’t like, I would remind myself that at least I had good food to eat. When I was embarrassed by a pair of shoes I had to wear one year, I remembered Sara’s clothes being old and shabby. Seeing how difficult it was for Sara, without parents to love her, I learned to better appreciate my own happy childhood.
After reading Anne of Green Gables in fifth grade, I not only found a heroine to emulate but also identified with her imagination and fanciful ways. I loved to read and put myself in the place of the heroine although I fortunately never sank in a leaky boat. I, too, spent hours wandering through the woods and fields near my home, and named my favorite haunts. Violet Valley, a small depression carpeted with violets each spring, was my favorite place. I would sink down among the flowers and pick handfuls of the purple and white blooms for my mother every year. When I read the chapter Where the Violets Grow in By the Shores of Silver Lake, I was not only reading the words, but I knew exactly what it was like to sink down into a mass of violets.
Reading opened the world to me. I learned how to be more compassionate to those in need, to understand people from different places and cultures than mine. I was inspired to make jam, bake bread, and keep a house from some books. Other books prodded me to study hard and succeed at school. Still others pushed me to continue with my writing. I learned what qualities make a good friend and wife and mother. Poetry opened my life to a richness of emotion and put words to things in my heart that I didn’t know could be described in words.
Spending so many hours reading during my childhood and adolescence was not only helpful in my growth academically and intellectually. I grew as a human being as I encountered the experiences and relationships of fictional characters. Books have been my friends, my mentors, and my guides. The person I am today is due to the books and stories I have absorbed and delighted in throughout my life.