After my parent’s divorce, my dad lived for awhile in an apartment that was just down the street from a store. I don’t remember what kind of store it was. It might have been anything — grocery, pharmacy, linens. For a five-year-old, this store had a single, bright attraction. Near the entrance, there was a spinning, metal rack of Little Golden Books.
If you are, like me, a child of the seventies, then Golden Books were a pillar of your education. They were easy to spot, spines bound in shiny, golden paper. They had titles like The Pokey Little Puppy, Scuffy the Tugboat, and The Little Red Hen. My favorite (then and now), was The Monster at the End of This Book. At 42, I still fall for Grover’s mock hysteria, his embarrassment on the final page. I’m sure there’s something of my character in those margins, if I spent the time to look.
But it wasn’t just Grover who engaged me. I loved them all, those golden spines, and my dad would let me choose a stack on each and every visit. Walking home, my arms loaded with a treasury of tales, I felt as rich as I could be.
So much comes from 26 letters, a meager handful of lines and slants and curves. It doesn’t seem like much. I wish I could remember the day, the moment, when those squiggly letters took the shape of a word, a sentence, a story. A revelation. It must have been my first-grade teacher, Miss Blossom, who taught me — the evidence is there, in a photograph, my face upturned to hers, star-struck and adoring.
Even now, after teaching both of my own children to read, the process remains a mystery to me, even something holy. I’ve seen it in the faces of my girls, the moment when they realize they are readers. It’s like a key clicking in a lock — the small, precise snap that changes everything.
Both my children have fallen down the rabbit hole with me, the eldest losing herself in chapter books while the youngest, only five, sounds out the rhythmic patterns, the vowels, hard and soft, and the blending up of consonants. Finding language, finding story, finding herself, a reader, in the pages.
As an adolescent, I once vowed to read every book in our large, light-strewn public library. All those countless pages followed me, even the ones that I didn’t read. They evoked a hunger to swallow language up, to build myself from stories. Through high school, college, and a PhD in English, as a mother spinning fairytales, I have immersed myself in language. Books invented me. They built me up like Lego blocks, a hodgepodge, multi-colored, bumpy structure, sharp along the edges.
If I became a writer, it was because the books themselves wrote the writing into me, a mobius strip identity. Stories, in their unfolding, wrote me into being, like a character invented. Books have been my map and path and wide, encompassing direction. I mined them for survival, for solace and courage and consolation. I memorized their contours, fallen into cadence.
I have a large imagination but, for all of it, I cannot comprehend who I would be without the things that I have read. So, thanks Dad, for those Little Golden Books. Thanks to Miss Blossom, Mrs. Willard, Ron Herzman, Carol Jacobs and all my other guides through language. Thanks to librarians in light-filled rooms lined with shelves. And thanks to the writers who pressed stories into the shape of pages. You have invented me, here and now, alive in the grace of words.
What’s your favorite story and how has it helped to shape you?