Recently my friend, Elizabeth, wrote about falling in love with reading. I could certainly relate. Along with remembering my own long-term relationships with school librarians, I also recalled the first books that converted my children.
My three have always been read to and were intent listeners, carrying around their favorite picture books so much they literally loved the covers off. But each of them has had one book that transformed them into passionate bibliophiles. For my oldest, I would say it was discovering Harry Potter in second grade. (He said his earliest memory is my “yelling at him to put down The Boxcar Children books and go to sleep.”) For my middle child, his love came a little later, when his fifth grade teacher introduced him to The Poppy Stories by Avi.
This week, my daughter, just a few days shy of her sixth birthday, fell in love and fell hard.
We read each night at bedtime and had picked up a library book by an author my friend, Jennifer, had recommended. A chapter book without pictures, it was a little out of the ordinary for us, but Mia had listened to others before, and I just encouraged her to use her imagination to fill in the blanks where the illustrations might have been, sometimes closing her eyes to do so, and pretty soon she’s asleep.
I noticed something unusual with this book: The Magic Half by Annie Barrows. Typically Mia asks for another book or chapter, mainly as a stall tactic to keep me in the room. But this time, her hand clutched my arm and a desperate look passed over her face as I started to close the book. “No, Mom,” she begged. “Don’t stop. Please read another chapter.” I offered to let her read it on her own or told her that we’d read in the morning over breakfast, but she wouldn’t be consoled. I would offer to read one more page, which nearly always led us to finish another chapter because how do you stop, really, in the middle of one?
When the two girls in the story, Miri and Molly, were in danger of being caught by Molly’s evil cousin, Horst, my daughter would bury her head against my shoulder and squeal. She’d interrupt me periodically to ask the definition of words such as outhouse and exquisite, impatience and pathetically. And just when I worried that the time-travel plot was too complicated for her to follow, she pricked up her head with discovery and shouted, “Three sets of twins!” She got it, all right!
With about ten pages to go, Mia panicked. This was a library book that would have to be returned. She held it tightly to her lap and conspired. “What if we said we lost it?” I told her, no. “Maybe they won’t miss it if we don’t return it.” I told her other children will want to read it, too. But she wasn’t convinced. I even told her that I had checked Amazon.com and could buy one for her to keep. “But what if it’s not the exact same book?” she feared.
After we read the last line, with Molly and Miri safely back in their room, she took the book from me, clutched it to her chest and sighed. “There should be more.” I knew the feeling, when the author so completely sucks you in that you can’t bear to read the last page, knowing the gig is up and reality awaits you. So, for her birthday, I bought her a copy of The Magic Half. She unwrapped it and held it up to me and said, “Let’s read it again!”