“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”
I was raised to love a good story even before I could read for myself. As far back as I can remember, I recall NaNa’s famous bedtime stories. Sometimes I’d ask for the same one over and over; sometimes I’d ask her to make up a new story. Sometimes I’d ask for her own rendition of my favorite Disney movies. And she always delivered. Even now, years and years later, I can sometimes still hear her voice as I lie in bed trying to fall asleep; I remember her telling me about the jungle boy who outsmarted the tigers or how Sleeping Beauty was awakened by the prince and lived happily ever after. That was just the beginning. Then I started noticing the towering stacks of Daddy’s National Geographic magazines, and I’d flip through the glorious pictures, wishing I knew all about them. I remember wanting to be able to discover stories on my own, and not only that – to find answers to questions I had about things like the National Geographic pictures, to learn about words, to discover other people’s ideas… And reading was what opened the door to all those things I wanted.
My parents started teaching me about letters before I started school. I had a set of those plastic magnetic letters for the fridge door, and I loved when Mama and Daddy would play games with me with those magnets. I didn’t even realize that I was learning the letters and sounds. When I’d mastered the letters themselves, Mama and Daddy started putting together little words like “dog” and “cat” and so on. The fridge door, with those multicolored little magnetic letters, became the doorway to the world. I then moved on to everybody’s favorite: Dr. Seuss. Mama had gotten me a huge boxed set of them. Not to mention the Peter Rabbit boxed set, the Minnie Mouse series complete with audio accompaniment, scores of those Little Golden Books, a Richard Scarry collection, a Berenstein Bears collection, and even more; and – as I got older – the encyclopedias, the fully illustrated big red dictionary, the bigger gold-leafed dictionary, the novels… Yes, I was expected to grow up a reader. So how can I possibly choose one children’s book to define my early reading life? I can’t. But a few do stand out in my memory, the most prominent of which is Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss.
Like I said, I’d been raised a reader, and I’d learned my letters and even a little bit of reading and writing before I started school. When I finally made it to kindergarten, I loved story time most of all. Mrs. McMullen introduced us to
“The Rainbow Fish” and “Amelia Bedelia,” and I positively loved every minute of it. I got better and better at reading myself, and one magnificent day, Mrs. McMullen told me that I could read a story to the class for story time. I don’t remember if I got to choose the book myself, but I do remember sitting on the stool, my classmates sitting in a semicircle facing me, all eyes on me, and I opened the book and began to read: “HOP. POP. We like to hop.” I wasn’t nervous; I didn’t ask for help. I knew every word on every page. “We like to hop on top of Pop.” And I loved it. I soaked it in: all the students sitting around me listening, being able to share a beloved piece of writing with others… “STOP. You must not hop on Pop.” Mrs. McMullen even sent home a note to my mother saying that she was proud of me for reading Hop on Pop to the class without asking for any help. That note is still in Mama’s scrap book, and I look at it from time to time and remember how much I loved that feeling when I confidently read aloud and shared something that I loved with the other kids. I also enjoyed feeling smart. (And that feeling doesn’t come around nearly as much now that I’m an adult, so I cherish it…)
Hop on Pop and all those other books from my little shelf that I so lovingly organized and dusted and reorganized took me down even more avenues as I got older. When “Summer Reading” time rolled around at the library in town, I forgot all about swimming and climbing trees and riding bikes and everything else a good country kid does during the sweltering Mississippi summer, and I hit the library for cookies and Kool Aid and books. I loved the feeling of that little pink library card in my hand; it was powerful. NaNa would bring home books when she went out, and I remember in particular one day when she came home with copies of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. She thought I’d enjoy something adventurous. She was right.
And I began to save my money for “Scholastic magazine days” at school. I remember sitting on Daddy’s knee one night in his recliner and asking if I could get “the fossil book” (I can’t remember its exact title or author) because it sounded so interesting and it came with four little fossils to start a collection. I was so excited when he said yes, and those four little fossils started what would become a quite extensive rock and mineral collection and a lifelong interest in paleontology. From second grade to senior year, I’d planned to be a paleontologist. When senior year rolled around, I applied to Montana State University to study under the legendary paleontologist John. R. Horner, of both Jurassic Park and National Geographic fame. I was accepted and was even granted a meager scholarship. Thanks to a little Scholastic book. Of course when it came down to it, I elected not to leave my family in Mississippi for faraway Montana, and I followed another career stemming from that Hop on Pop moment: I decided to teach English and share my love of reading with even more kids. That career choice didn’t pan out so well, but I can’t say that I entirely regret it.
From NaNa’s stories and Hop on Pop to Peter Rabbit, from a Scholastic “fossil book” to Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island, from The Outsiders to “The Tell-Tale Heart,” from Shakespeare to Anna Karenina, with so very much in between – I was raised to love reading. I started out listening to stories; I flipped through magazine pictures and wondered about them; I learned letters and little words with refrigerator magnets; I discovered I love to share my reading experiences; and I have ultimately decided to pursue literature further as a career as a professor. Reading is my life; my life, reading. And I simply wouldn’t be the person I am without having read Hop on Pop to my kindergarten class.
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