Sunday, November 12, 2006

Early Reading Meme

I’ve decided to have a go at creating a meme. I’ve been re-reading some childhood favourites lately and thinking a lot about the process of becoming a reader, so I’m taking early reading experiences as my subject. Herewith are my questions and my answers:

1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you?

I learned to read when I was four. I was then in the habit of following my older brother everywhere and copying everything that he did. He was in first grade and reading, so I pestered my mom until she taught me how. No doubt much to my brother’s relief, I spent a lot less time following him around thereafter. I was too busy reading.

2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library?

There was a tattered copy of Grimm’s fairytales with a soft yellow cover from which my mom read to us when we were very young. That was likely the first one. But it was quickly followed by the acquisition of a whole set of hardcover “I Can Read” books which ranged from very basic read-aloud books to beginning chapter books. In the former category, my particular favourites were Hop on Pop, One Fish Two Fish, Are You My Mother?, and Put Me in the Zoo. In the latter category, the one I liked best was an abridged version of Heidi. In the photo posted above, that’s me as a child curled up in the armchair reading Heidi. I can’t make out the title of the book my brother is reading. The Grimm’s fairytale book has since disappeared. But I believe that all those “I Can Read” books are now part of my nieces’ collection.

Early favourite check-outs from the library were Munro Leaf’s Wee Gillis and M. Lindman’s books about Swedish triplets Snip, Snap and Snurr, and Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money?

The first books that I recall buying with my own money were Enid Blyton’s “St. Clare’s” and “Malory Towers” boarding school series. I was ten-years-old and we were on a caravan trip in the north of Scotland. I’d read a few books from each series at my cousin’s before we set off, and I was elated to find a complete set of both in a small shop about a half-hour walk from the campground where we were staying. I had saved up several weeks of allowance money and I promptly spent the lot on them. I remember my brother making fun of me when I realized that the shop owner had given me too much change and I insisted on walking all the way back to the store to return the excess. I was quite sure that the boarding school code of honour embodied in the books required no less of me.

4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often?

I was a compulsive re-reader as a child which makes it a bit difficult to identify which of my many re-reads that I re-read most often. I think it’s a toss up between the high school books in Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series, and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne and Emily books.

5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it?

I read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind just after I turned twelve and was completely captivated by it. I lugged an enormous hard cover library copy of it with me everywhere all summer: to the pool, to summer camp, on a weekend trip to a friend’s cabin. It’s a wonder it made it back to the library in one piece.

6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones?

As a child I read the odd book with a magical element to it: books by E. Nesbit, P.L. Travers, and L. Frank Baum. But I generally preferred realistic books and I had the idea fixed in my head that I didn’t like to read fantasy. Although I loved series books, I skipped right past Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles and Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series on the library shelf without so much as reading the full jacket copy descriptions. Since Tolkien is a particular favourite of my dad’s and my brother’s, I tried several times to read The Hobbit. But I found Gollum repellent and I never made it beyond his first appearance in the book. I never even attempted The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It was Harry Potter that turned this around for me. A couple of years ago, several participants in a children’s literature list-serv of which I’m a member raved so eloquently about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books that I decided to find out what all the fuss was about. Four books in the series had already been published by then, and I was so taken with the first that I promptly went out and bought the set and read the rest in rapid succession. Somehow, this experience broke through my mental block about the whole fantasy genre. Thereafter I read with pleasure all the classic fantasy series that I’d spurned as a child including the Prydain Chronicles, the Dark is Rising series, and Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’ve since gone on to explore several marvellous contemporary children’s fantasy books by the likes of Phillip Pullman, Diana Wynne Jones, and Terry Pratchett.

The Harry Potter books have been credited with getting reluctant child readers to read. I can testify to the fact that they also got this avid adult reader but reluctant fantasy reader to embrace a genre the charms of which had previously escaped me.

Consider yourselves tagged! I want to hear all about the early reading that set you on the path to becoming the reader that you are today.

Update: Lots of bloggers are chiming in on this one with some very interesting responses to my questions. Here are links to those that I've come across so far:

a high and hidden place
A Work in Progress
Around the World in 100 books
Big A little a
Cam's Commentary
Critical Mass
Dabbling Dilettante
Dumb Ox Academy
Gray's Academy
Journey Woman
Lady Strathconn's Journal
Lotus Reads
Mommy Brain
My Novel on Toast
Nom de Plume
Of Books and Bicycles
Original Content
Out of a Stormy Sleep
pages turned
Reading Log Blog
So Many Books
Stephen Lang
Terry Teachout
The Bayer Family Blog
The Books of My Numberless Dreams
The Golden Road to Samarqand
The Hobgoblin of Little Minds
The Library Ladder
The Literate Kitten
The Pickards
The Public, The Private, and Everything In Between
Tiger by the Tale
White Thoughts No-One Sees
Written Wyrdd


Nancy said...

Nice idea! I posted mine. Thanks!

LK said...

This is great! I'm doing Litlove's meme today, and yours tomorrow or Wed. Thanks, Kate!

Anonymous said...

Kate, this is a great meme. I particularly like your #3 story. Ms. Blyton would be proud!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful meme! And I love all your answers.

I posted my answers, too!

Lotus Reads said...

What a great meme, Kate, so glad you thought of it, I will definitely have to do mine! Although I spent my childhood on almost the other side of the world, I, too, remember spending my pocket money on Enid Blyton's "St. Claire's" and "Mallory Towers" books. Enid Blyton had such universal appeal didn't she? I will try to get to this meme on the weekend, thanks!

Camille said...

Hi! I loved your meme so much I did it myself. Thanks!

Heather said...

You have such a good memory! I am going to attempt this meme of your later but I guarantee it won't be as captivating as yours.

litlove said...

Fantastic meme, Kate! I'll be in on this one.

Anonymous said...

Great idea. This had made me think of things I haven't considered for a long time. I've just posted my answers.

Beth said...

Thanks for creating this meme. While I don't have time to complete the entire thing, it did jog my memory and I've posted some of my favorites. It was a nice "time-out" from life.

Heather said...

Thanks for the fantastic meme Kate. It has been so entertaining to read everyone's thoughts on children's literature.

Harry Potter did the exact same thing for me. I was never much of a fantasy, or children's/young adult lit reader until I tried those. Now it's one of my favorite genres.

Anonymous said...

That's a good 'un. Consider me 'memed'.

Michael said...

1. In kindergarten (hence 4ish) I was reading sentences with pictures in place of the nouns-- and then bing, suddenly I was reading. Interestingly, my kids go to a Waldorf school where they teach reading "backwards"-- comprehension and patience first, decoding letters second, on the theory that the common problems with reading are really frustration and dedication issues-- so both my kids are learning to read solo much slower, but I can't argue because they sure love books, at least as much as I did. A bit scary for a parent but when you see the beautiful things they write in 4th or 5th grade it's hard to argue...

2. Go Dog Go and Richard Scarry's Busy Busy World are the two that brought back long-lost memories with each page, so I guess those were MY first books-- maybe with Seuss's Birthday Book.

3. I remember the process of ordering books through Weekly Reader, that's the first transaction I remember as opposed to a book appearing in a parent's hand.

4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory strikes me as one I must have reread multiple times. I suspect after that the answer is one of the Alfred Hitchcock Three Investigators series.

5. I read Airport in about 3rd grade, and carry bits of trivia about the management of major airports circa 1968 in my head to this day. Paging Lester Mainwaring...

6. Reading to my sons I've both rediscovered, and discovered, a lot of things. The Wizard of Oz books, after the first one, are a disappointment alas. The Chronicles of Narnia had a lovely directness for a child even when I choked on the religious messages. The Borrowers have a palpable sense of poverty and deprivation which quite surprised me returning to them; they're the Diary of Anne Frank of kids' books. Probably our favorite, not high literature but an endlessly likable and comfortable world to revisit, are the Freddy the Pig books by Walter Brooks, which I think are superior to-- less aimed at adult approval than-- E.B. White's animal books. (Curiously, they were working at the New Yorker at roughly the same time.)

mary grimm said...

Just posted mine--what a good meme-idea.

je m'amuse said...

Thanks for the meme. I finished mine this morning!

Alex Lewin said...

Responses from someone who did not read as a child...

A Peculiar River

Anonymous said...

Great meme, Kate! I couldn't resist answering these questions. The relevant post is here

teabird said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
teabird said...

(re-posted ...)

I found this meme via Heather, the Orange Blossom Goddess - it's wonderful to focus on early reading and books, isn't it? I think it's important to remember the beginning of a journey -
my responses are on my Tea Reads blog:


Captain Steve said...

Excellent idea! I found this through sassymonkey through Blogher. Posted mine.

Anonymous said...

I can't resist!
1. 4/ my mother
2.Sweet Pickles Books
Come Over to My House
3.Learn French the Fast Way
The Sun Also Rises or The Great Gatsby
4.I re-read National Geographic Magazines and history books
5. Jean Plaidy Books
6. I agree: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe now I wish they had Harry Potter when I was a child/ I also like L. Frank Baum

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

Found this through Big A little a. My version's been posted.

Jordyn said...

No idea how I stumbled upon your blog, but I'm glad I did. My answers to your meme are on my blog...

Hope that link works, but you might have to cut & paste.

Anonymous said...

Nice meme...I love it....!

Bruce Howlett said...

"The Harry Potter books have been credited with getting reluctant child readers to read."

This is so true. It's not only the fact that they are such wonderful and gauging books, but reading these books is not the "cool" thing to do for kids. It's almost peer pressure the way it works.