How I Learned to Love to Read

I’ve already told the horrible story of Lucille, but before that dastardly purple horse, I was brought into the wonderful world of reading with a series about a character known as Little Critter, created by Mercer Mayer.

If you are unfamiliar with Little Critter, this is what he looks like:

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A bit frightening, but he sure as heck rocks those overalls. I loved these books as a child. The first one I read unassisted was called I Am Sharing. I plucked it off the shelf one day, sat down, and read through it all on my own. From that moment on, I was a reader.

Other than Little Critter, I also devoured the Berenstain Bears, by Jan and Stan Berenstain, the Eric Carle books, and a lot of Doctor Seuss… my favorites being And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Yertle the Turtle, and The Lorax. I was also a big fan of Owen by Kevin Henkes, Corduroy by Don Freeman, and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. I even had several books on tape (Yes, tape – I am old enough to remember using tapes), which I listened to over and over again to fall asleep at night. These types of stories are the ones I hope still appeal to young readers, a couple of decades later.

220px-The_Tower_Treasure_(Hardy_Boys_no._1,_revised_edition_-_front_cover)After, I worked my way into more difficult series – two of the big ones were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery books, written by a variety of ghostwriters under the same pseudonyms while working for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. My dad is responsible for influencing my love of mysteries and suspense stories, as he also introduced me to old radio detectives like Sam Spade and Richard Diamond. To this day I can’t resist a good mind-bending mystery. I was also drawn to The Babysitter’s Club stories by Ann M. Martin and The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. My shelves were full of these books, and I even read some of the adventures multiple times in order to recapture the magic.

Call of the Wild GIC.jpgAfter that, I had classics like fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and abridged and illustrated versions of stories like Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London, and The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. I used to try to recreate the drawings in these books, which also helped foster my love for drawing. I enjoyed these sort of “watered down” versions of the classics because I got to experience them at a young age, and when I grew older, I could read the “real” versions and feel nostalgic about the editions I read in the past, and appreciate that those stories are made accessible to younger readers. I don’t think I’d be as much of an avid reader if not for any of these books, way back to that first Little Critter book.

These books made me love reading. These titles and series are the cornerstones of my love for reading, and the foundation of my reading habits – and I’m curious to know what sparked your love for reading!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

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Lucille

One of the proudest days of my academic career was being placed in the “advanced” group after a reading assessment in first grade. As such, I was permitted to read books marked with a daunting “5.” The most challenging books set aside for young, aspiring readers – the first small steps on the way to much larger feats, like The Lord of the Rings and To Kill A Mockingbird.

But before I would be able to tackle hobbits and other, more advanced literature, I had to grapple with a purple horse named Lucille.

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In retrospect, it’s very clear to me that 5-year-old Allie picked Lucille by Arnold Lobel because it was about a horse, and I’ve been an animal lover my whole life. But 5-year-old Allie should not have picked this book – she should have run far, far away, and made a different selection. And why is that?

Because I couldn’t pronounce “Lucille.”

You would think I’d pick a book with a title I could pronounce with my limited child vocabulary, but nooooooo, that would make too much sense. I’m half-sure I didn’t even look at the title when I chose it, I just saw a purple horse and was like, “YES, THIS ONE.” Kids are so impulsive. And stupid.

It was only after I got home, yanked the book out of my backpack, and scanned the front, that I realized I couldn’t read the title. And my stomach sank, because I knew at the end of the week I was going to have to read the book aloud to the teacher, and being able to read the title is a pretty big part of that. I was terrified I’d get demoted out of the advanced reading group, forever scorned by my classmates, mocked for my lack of knowledge. I’d never be able to look at horses the same way again.

I suppose I probably hoped that it was just the title, and the name didn’t pop up too much in the actual book… but that was not to be. And it’s not like I could just bloop over it, like they teach you at that age to do with words you can’t pronounce. It was like, 50% of the book. Should have watched all those reruns of I Love Lucy on TV Land when I was younger, but I was more of a Brady Bunch person.

So, what did I do? Did I ask my mom for help, which would have been the most logical thing to do? No, no. Stubborn Child-Allie had far too much pride, and that careless hubris was her downfall.

Instead of asking for help, I guessed. To be fair, I used the typically tried-and-true method of “sound it out,” and I was 100% certain that I got it right, so I didn’t bother double-checking with anyone who could, you know… actually read.

Therefore, I called the horse “Luckily.” Which, at least, is a real word. The rest of the book, after that minor snafu, was a total breeze. “Luckily” the horse has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s completely wrong, but not way out in left field. More like… on the third base line. Or in foul territory.

So, I went into my next reading assessment super confident that I was going to nail it… until I sat down in an uncomfortable plastic chair in front of my first grade teacher, Lucille in hand, and the doubts began to swoop in. My certainty wavered, then snapped like a brittle twig. So when she told me to begin, I just sat there, staring at that damn purple horse, and I said nothing for a long time.

Until I finally admitted, “Um… I don’t know how to say this.”

“It’s Lucille,” my teacher explained, pronouncing it perfectly.

And then I read the book through, cover to cover, and didn’t mess up once. No damage to my reading reputation was done by the gaffe, by admitting my weakness. I wasn’t placed in a lower reading level, I continued to foster an intense love of reading and literature, and in the following years, I moved on to bigger books about worlds in wardrobes, dashing heroes, clever young detectives, and a troupe of creative babysitters.

Sometimes, it’s okay to ask for help, or to mess up a bit on an initial attempt. It’s okay to not know everything, especially if you’re five/six years old and only just learning to read proper books. You don’t need to hit a homerun your first turn at bat or score a goal your first time on the field. I might have struggled a bit with a purple horse named Lucille, but luckily, I learned from the experience – and to this day, I’m not afraid to admit when I don’t know how to pronounce a word, or can’t puzzle out a definition.