“Oh, You Can’t Help That. We’re All Mad Here.”

I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is absolutely my favorite childhood book, and even as an adult I love to read it. I can’t count how many times I’ve read it now.

I read so many good books as a child. Too many to count or even remember. Some I remember the stories but not the titles and have spent hours searching data bases and libraries for them, doing searches based on a character name or even just a genre or topic. And a lot of books are out of print and take a lot of searching to find copies of them for sale even if I do remember the names.

Books have been such an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents always made sure I had books to read, and books were always given to me for birthdays, Christmas or any other occasion that included gifts. I loved my books more than dolls or any other toys that I had. I tried so hard to interest all my children in reading. Out of five, only one, the daughter I just had the baby shower for, truly inherited my love of books and reading. Of the other four, two have a very few select books that they like and will read over and over again, one will only read books because they are assigned for school, and one wont read at all.

I have so many happy memories of a childhood spent reading. Pretty much the only happy memories in a childhood that was primarily lonely and friendless. I looked forward to the hours I could spend away from my real life and the bullies that humiliated me every day. Often I would take my books and hide in my closet in with a flashlight or under my bed so my parents couldn’t find me and bother me, or I would go into the woods behind my house. I also spent many weekends and summer days at the library, my home away from home.

As much as I loved to read as a child, however, I hated reading classes in school. I hated, hated, HATED writing book reports or having to read assigned chapters or a specific number of pages, or even being assigned a book not of my choosing. If anything is designed to make a child hate reading, its book reports. Theres nothing like taking something that is spozed to be enjoyable and making it into a tedious work assignment. Despite having a college level reading ability by the time I left elementary school, I consistently failed reading in school simply because I could not write a good book report, even if it was for a book I liked.

Fortunately, tho, I did read a few  books as school assignments that I really liked. Two that stick out in my memory are Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan in 6th grade and The Secret of the Seven Crows by Wylly Folk St. John in 5th grade. I remember reading Secret of the Seven Crows. The reading teacher would have us taking turns reading out loud from one chapter, then we would discuss it, then we would have to hand our books in at the end of class because she didn’t want us reading ahead. I fell in love with the book from the very first chapter and considering we only had reading once a week there was no way I was going to wait and read one chapter a week. So after school that day I went to the library and borrowed it and read the whole book that night. How any of the other kids managed to read this book in the way the teacher planned, I have no idea. By the time the week passed and it was time for reading class again, most of them had forgotten everything they had read in the previous chapter.

And while we are on the topic of having students reading out loud: Why? That is the worst thing ever. Having to sit there and follow along while some poor kid stutters and stumbles along an endless passage of words in a monotone with no attention paid to punctuation or paragraphs or quotation marks is just painful. Nobody wants to read out loud. Nobody wants to listen to anybody read out loud. Nobody reads well out loud. So, please, Teachers, stop torturing your students with this excercise in frustration and humiliation.

I did have a (very) few teachers that used books for enjoyment rather than just school work. When I was in 2nd grade my teacher would read us poems from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends in the afternoons if we had a good day. Santa Claus brought me that book for Christmas that year because I loved it so much. I still have it (missing its dust jacket and a little warped from water damage) over thirty years later. My daughter uses it to read poems to her unborn child.

And my 5th grade teacher (not the reading teacher, my regular teacher) who was one of the few teachers I ever really liked. He was a hippy back in the 60s (this was now the early 80s) and every Friday afternoon we would get our carpet squares and sit on the floor by the bookshelves and he would play guitar and sing folk songs or read to us. I wish I could remember the name of the book he read us that year. I can remember the story but not the title. *sigh*

Books were my companions, my best friends and I loved them all. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, The Witches’ Bridge, The Chronicles of Narnia, Pippi Longstocking, Oscar Lobster’s Fair Exchange, Bunnicula, Dorrie the Witch, The Runaway Squash, Gus was a Friendly Ghost, Green Eggs and Ham, and many, many more. And so many books I’ve yet to read.

More than I’ll ever have time for in a single life time.

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