The Mount McKinley of my young reading career.
I can't remember my bookshelves without The Little Gymnast. The 135-page monster sat on a shelf, innocent-looking enough, and taunted me, wanting to know why I couldn't move up in the world and start reading books without pictures. And so I tried. When I couldn't quite make it through, I slipped the book back on the shelf but still pulled it out occasionally to stare longingly at its beautifully designed cover. I'm not sure why I fell in love with the book--maybe it was my inner gymnast, who never got a day in the spotlight since my physical body would never cooperate and do anything more demanding than a cartwheel. Most likely it was the cover. How could any little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl not fall in love with that cover? I tried several more times to read it until one day ... I actually made it through the entire book. It was the summer before second grade, and reading this book granted me an invisible key that allowed me to open a new door into reading more substantial books. In other words, it gave me a key to start perusing my older sister's bookshelves.
I digested her books, many of which were parts of series: The Baby-Sitters' Club books, Candice F. Ransom's books that followed Kobie from Almost Ten and a Half to Fifteen at Last, Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, and the gymnast books (I can't remember the exact title of the series). When we visited our family in Colorado, I raided my cousins' bookshelves and read books from other series like Sweet Valley High. I enjoyed the books I read, and series were especially fun because it was nice to have the chance to get to know characters over time--like they were real people. And yet, it wasn't enough for me because I hadn't found that one series that could become mine. That one series that would grace my bookshelves.
That changed one sweet day at a Scholastic Book Fair when I picked up my first book in the Sleepover Friends series. The Sleepover Friends inspired me to have more sleepovers, try new activities, think "outside the box" when I was stuck at home but wanted something new to do, and change my name to Patricia (the only one my parents wouldn't support). From the Sleepover Friends, I moved on to find more series, including Lois Gladys Leppard's Mandie books and Louis Sachar's Wayside School books.
With these books, I began my very own collection. I wanted my bedroom to be full of books--a dream that has since changed into wanting a house full of books. With those series, I had a full-access pass into the world of reading because the characters had lives beyond one story, and so as they grew from story to story, I also grew--as a reader and as a person.
In the fourth grade, I met the Mount Everest of my reading career. My fourth grade teacher allowed me to pick any book I wanted to read for one of the Lit Group sessions of the year because I had already read the book she had selected for my group. I chose Banner in the Sky. At 285 pages, it was the largest book I had ever picked up to read in my young life. It was slow going at times, but I made it through (if for no other reason than I knew once I picked the book I had to stick with it). Finishing that book opened yet another door to me: the door that led to books written for young adults and even those written for adults.
At the time, I never thought about my reading some of those books as extraordinary in terms of being an advanced reader for my age. I simply thought about them in terms of setting goals and achieving them, which usually came out as something even simpler: "I want to read that book." Books became more to me than just pages with words placed between two covers: They became my friends, my allies, and even my nemeses. My favorite books are those that challenge me--whether the challenge comes from its content, style, or sheer length.
I kept The Little Gymnast, the Sleepover Friends books, Mandie books, Wayside School books, and Banner in the Sky because I can't imagine my bookshelves without them; they pushed me to take reading to the next level, making reading personal. With them, books went from being a source of entertainment to being a part of me.
Happy reading . . . and happy remembering all the books that made reading personal!