Gifts Where You Least Expect Them

I have always loved a good story. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mom reading the Velveteen Rabbit, James and the Giant Peach and Charlotte’s Web to me. My dad could read Bread and Jam for Frances like nobody’s business, and he could make up a story on a whim without blinking an eye. So for me reading was always about a good story. I have vivid memories of learning to read when I was in first grade and feeling like I was not smart. I had to drudge through stories in a basal reader about Sandy and her dog Bing. These were not stories, to me they were torture. Bing and Sandy never did anything fun like the characters in the books my parents read to me. They never ate Chompo bars, and they certainly never went on an adventure in a giant peach! Day after day I would trudge through Bing and Sandy stories and long to read real stories in big thick books about real characters and the adventures they had. I would secretly get big books out of my mom’s fifth grade classroom and pretend to read them because that is what I thought smart people did, read big, thick books. I usually didn’t understand much of what I read, but I thought that I looked smart reading big, thick books. Eventually I tired of doing this because it didn’t fulfill my need for a good story either. Yes, I learned to read, but it was not fun. In fact, I did not like reading at all. For the most part, I gave up on ever being a reader and assumed that I was just not smart. As years passed, many of my friends could read books that I wanted to read, but I had pretty much written myself off as a reader, so I pretended that it didn’t matter to me. Then one day everything changed! A friend of mine (who I considered to be BRILLIANT) gave me a Sweet Valley High book for my birthday, and my life as a reader was changed forever! Oh the joy I got from reading about the adventures Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield had at Sweet Valley High. I could not put these books down! I would finish one book and count down the months, days, weeks until the next book would come out. I devoured these books and remember spending an entire Christmas morning reading from cover to cover my newest book in the Sweet Valley collection. Were these books classics? Absolutely not! However, these were the books that made me fall in love with reading. They were also the books that began to change my mindset about how smart I was. Eventually I moved on from Sweet Valley High books and found other stories by authors such as Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Laura Ingles Wilder. In middle school, I remember reading Where the Red Fern Grows and crying so hard at the end that I thought I may never stop! In high school, I moved on to more of the classics such as The Great Gatsby and the Iliad and the Odyssey. I was reading not because I had to or someone was making me, but because it was fun and I enjoyed it. I had also changed my mindset. Whereas once I believed I was incapable and powerless, I now had replaced those thoughts with new beliefs about my reading and my abilities. Oftentimes we as parents and teachers try to move children into books that they are not ready for or are not interested in because we feel like this is a great book or they need to be challenged. We unintentionally begin to create a mindset that they are not good enough or smart enough because they are not reading a certain kind of book. I am fortunate that my parents were okay with me reading and rereading every Sweet Valley High book known to man. Even though these books were not great works of literature, they were the books that I loved more than anything and books that truly made me a reader. I will forever be thankful to Francine Pascal and her characters from Sweet Valley for opening up a whole world of reading to me and for helping me continue that true love of a good story.

Leslie

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