Thursday, December 10, 2020

DECEMBER 10 - Good Books, Good Friends

  The ability to read has probably brought me more hours of delight than any other single thing in my life.  I remember opening my first “reading book” on my little desk in first grade and galloping through every word like a runaway horse.  The system of combining letters into words and then ideas made complete sense to me and reading came as natural as breathing.  I have no idea how it happened; I just “got it”.

  The series I learned to read from were the Alice and Jerry Books, written by Mabel O’Donnell. 
The books were yellowed and well-worn by the time they reached my class of first graders.  It didn’t matter.  Brother and sister Alice and Jerry and their small dog Jip had adventures that lured me far from the grubby dog-eared pages, the classroom smells of paste and wet mittens, the droning voice of Mrs Bastian, into worlds I could now access without asking someone to read to me.  I was in control and I was unstoppable.  I was chastised often for that  great sin ... Reading Ahead! 
  We were divided into reading groups, six of us at a time who came to the front of the classroom and sat at a round table to read aloud together like a Greek chorus.  I would control myself for a while, my voice in synch with all the others, but then my eyes couldn’t resist flying ahead to find out What Happened.  And there I would be, no longer with the choir but forging ahead on my own.  Only to be scolded once again for Reading Ahead.  

 My reading group was called the Bluebirds. I don’t remember the other group names but they all involved a color.  And everyone knew the Bluebirds were the best readers.  The other three groups were on a scale that sank down to the sad little bunch of readers having serious difficulty, the Brownsomethings.

  I loved the simple stories that grew more complex as we became more adept.  I loved the characters, the funny little dog Jip, the things they did just like I did, like jump in the leaves and roller skate.  I loved the illustrations, soft watercolors of children and situations completely familiar to me. 

  Looking back, I realize there were children in my class whose home life was nothing like Alice and Jerry’s, whose parents didn’t take care of them like mine did, whose clothing was inadequate, who smelled bad, who had little in common with Alice and Jerry and the kind adults in the books.  I wonder if those children were the ones who made up the Brownsomething reading group.

 Alice Fairchild was my first school friend. We shared a double desk that had two cubbies between the seats. I thought Alice was the luckiest girl in the world because she had the same name as the girl in our Alice and Jerry Readers.  Alice’s cubby was on top, mine on the bottom. On special occasions (I think this might have been the day before Thanksgiving) we were each given a treat, a Dixie Cup — a little paper cup of vanilla ice cream with a tiny wooden spoon that, when you licked the ice cream off of it, made the ice cream taste like a Christmas tree.    

 Sweet Alice, unbeknownst to anyone but herself for several hours, decided to save her Dixie Cup and bring it home to a sibling.  Unfortunately she squirreled it away in her cubby above mine and when I reached into my cubby for something later, all the ice cream had dribbled down and made a sticky mess of my crayons and Big Chief tablet, my pencils and my reading book.  The teacher was very upset but Alice and I remained fast friends until third grade when she moved away.  

  Reading has allowed me to satisfy my curiosity and learn new things, to travel to other places and other times I could never go.  Reading has made me laugh, cry, empathize, think, rage, commiserate. I almost lost my sight twice, two detached retinas repaired with emergency surgeries. I’m grateful every day I still have the opportunity to read.  


  1. I share your passion for reading. It stretches back to my very first memories, and I could not imagine going a day without reading. My favourites as a child, as best I can remember, were a series of books written for children on different topics of the natural world - birds, mammals, insects, trees, even geology, and obviously those early days fuelled a lifelong passion. The adventure book that excited me the most was "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stephenson, and it made me want to travel. My love of nature in all its forms has grown over the years, as has my joy in visiting other countries. And it's all due to books!

  2. I loved to read too but we had Dick and Jane and Spot! School was my refuge for a sponge I read everything I home we had the Bible and an old Veterinary manual that was in the garage....I paged through that whole old dirty dusty thing skipping over the words I did not know. Reading for pleasure was frowned upon in my home. It was a waste of time is what I was told.

  3. You've made a great sales pitch for reading. But you must be very old if you had Alice and Jerry or did they come after Dick and Jane? Ha! I think that many little kids know how to read before they start gr. one. You were one of them

  4. Good to remember what you used to read and how it was read and thought of.

  5. I grew up in Sweden so I'm not familiar with the books you had when you learned to read. In those days in Sweden, I was not taught to read before I started first grade at age seven. But I learned quickly and soon went with my dad to the library, where in those days all books were encased in red leather covers. Oh, how I loved all those red books!

  6. I think many of us have been reading more in the last few months - it's a great way of travelling to new places and meeting new people without catching any nasty viruses! I don't remember much about learning to read though I know I could read a bit when I started school.

  7. What an absolutely WONDERFUL post. It is interesting that you remember so clearly your experience of ... falling in love with reading. My own memories are not so clear of those times in my life. I blame that on trying to personally stay-a-float in a dysfunctional family. School for me was a struggle in grade school and I was probably in that "brown something" group you mentioned. But as I reach high school and College I became more of a student and while my grades did not necessary represent my love of learning back then - I did cultivate that skill over the 73 years of my life. I think they call people like me - late bloomers! :-) I am a former grade school teacher - only 4 years. I was not a gifted teacher - just didn't know what I wanted to do with my life then. But reading (and most recently - living with a husband who is legally blind - listening to audio books) have been a constant companion for me. Thank you for this walk back in time as it triggered some of my own memories and thoughts of a possible post for my own blog..

  8. My first book - pre my reading days - well not many kids can read at their first b/day was 'Black Beauty" - 1944,
    the next three years resulted in Christmas books - the trilogy: My Friend Flicka,(1945) Thunderhead (1946) and "Green Grass of Wyoming" (1947.)
    I still have all 4 books! So the first one is 76 years old. Not bad eh????