Monday, January 2, 2017

My Mom Whacked Me a Good One!

Reading on the Sly as a Kid

I am not sure my Dad knows this about me.  As a kid, I was always reading on the sly.  When I was in grade school, I saved some of my allowance to buy a small flashlight.  I used it to read books under the covers after my parents forced me to bed. I shared a room with my brother, Greg, so I assume I waited until he fell asleep.  I am sure I read for at least an hour after bedtime.

As I got older, I would sneak from my bedroom to the bathroom to read by the nightlight.  This habit might explain my poor vision today. When I heard my parents starting to come up the steps, I'd hurry back to my room.  On some nights, I'd find that my feet had fallen to sleep while sitting on the tile floor under the weak light. Then I'd have to hobble to my unsteady feet and pretend that I was using the toilet.  

One time, mom came up the steps too quickly to give me enough time to cover my secret reading habit.  I thought she might use the toilet and leave, so I stepped into the walk-in linen closet. Instead, she started to draw a bath. At one point, she stuck her head into the linen closet. Not knowing what to do, I made the mistake of saying: "Boo." It scared the crap out of her, and she hit me.  Really whacked me a good one and shoved me down the hallway to my room. 

Mom took us to the University City Library at least twice a month. I wish I had a list of the books I read during those elementary school days.  I remember two that held my heart.  I read them many times.  Both had young girls as heroines. 

The first book is called The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink. One of the reviewers on Amazon captured why I loved it so.  I was the tall, skinny, knock-kneed, smart, artistic girl in class who wore dresses my mom sewed (lovely, but still not what everyone else was wearing) and "corrective" shoes.  I had many friends, but I never felt I truly fit in. 

[T]he key theme [in this book] is the acceptance by the conventional of the "Unusual." The narrow-minded vs. the open-minded. The extremely narrow-minded parents balk at the "unusual" color of the pink motel, and declare that they will paint it "gray or brown or white" as soon as possible. The children, more open-minded, love the color of the motel and actively seek out the unusual. Of course, by the end, even the parents have loosened up under the spell of the Pink Motel, and somewhat nervously accept the Unusual. 
It's clear to me that one reason children embrace this story is that it reassures them that there might be a place for them in the world, no matter how unusual they are: i.e. adopted, too bright, extremely isolated, gay, or the "wrong color" (depending on where they're going to school).
Beyond that, it's just a terrific story, swiftly told, with great illustrations. The weather-vanes are especially charming.
I also loved a book called Island of the Blue Dolphins.  I think I loved the self-sufficiency of the heroine.  Here's how Amazon describes the book:
Far off the coast of California looms a harsh rock known as the island of San Nicholas. Dolphins flash in the blue waters around it, sea otter play in the vast kelp beds, and sea elephants loll on the stony beaches. 
Here, in the early 1800s, according to history, an Indian girl spent eighteen years alone, and this beautifully written novel is her story. It is a romantic adventure filled with drama and heartache, for not only was mere subsistence on so desolate a spot a near miracle, but Karana had to contend with the ferocious pack of wild dogs that had killed her younger brother, constantly guard against the Aleutian sea otter hunters, and maintain a precarious food supply.
 * * * 
Karana's quiet courage, her Indian self-reliance and acceptance of fate, transform what to many would have been a devastating ordeal into an uplifting experience. From loneliness and terror come strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic.

Tell me about the childhood books you loved the most.

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