I have very special memories of first grade. What I remember the most about this time is it was the year I learned to read. Learning the alphabet was exciting in itself; but then the magic began. I learned how to put those letters together and form words. This meant, of course, that I could read; and there was nothing better — at least not in my book! (please excuse the pun)
Reading presented a whole new world to me. All I needed was to open a book and I could be transported to another time, another place, another event – or I could be someone else instead of just me. Not only was reading the most valuable lesson for me, it was also the most rewarding. I became a bookworm (as my mother called me). I would read everything I could get my hands on — from the backs of cereal boxes to the book of fairy tales my aunt had given me for Christmas. I had discovered a very special world — the world of reading.
Our family lived in a low-income housing unit. My father was disabled from working and my mother had seven children to care for. We did not have a car – we took the city bus everywhere, including to church. My problem was I had no way to get to the downtown library. My mother would not allow me to ride the bus alone, and everyone else was too busy to take me to the library. I was sad — no library — no books — no reading. I had an ardent desire to read, but there were no books to read – except at school. I fervently wished there was a library in our neighborhood.
Another two years passed and then my wish became a reality. Our neighborhood was chosen to have the bookmobile come to our area. Never heard of it? Let me tell you about it. The bookmobile resembled a big bus; but instead of seats, it had shelves – shelves and shelves of wonderful books. I felt I was the luckiest girl in the world because the bookmobile was coming to my neighborhood.
Once school was out for the summer, the bookmobile would arrive on Wednesday of the next week. I could hardly wait! When Wednesday arrived, my mother brought me and my little sisters to the bookmobile. We walked three blocks to where the bookmobile was parked. I could hardly contain my excitement. Then we arrived, and there it was – big and shiny and white. By the looks of it, this bookmobile was brand-new. There was a line full of children and their mothers waiting to go inside the bookmobile, We took our place at the back of the line, and I anxiously awaited our turn. It seemed to take forever. Finally it was our turn to go inside. I was so excited that I stumbled on the top step. If not for my mother catching me at the last minute, I would have tumbled out of the bookmobile and onto the ground.
We were greeted by the librarian, who introduced herself to us as Miss Marge. She was tall and thin, with short, curly black hair. But what I remember most about her is her eyes. They were golden brown and were framed by a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. I took an immediate liking to her. She had a low-pitched voice and spoke softly and kindly.
“Hello dear – what is your name?” she asked me.
“My name’s Cindy,” I replied.
“What grade are you in, Cindy?”
“I just finished the third grade,” I announced proudly.
“Are those your sisters?” she asked as she pointed to my little sisters.
“Yes,” I nodded. “They are my little sisters – I have two big sisters, too.”
“Hmm .. I think I have just the book for you,” she said. “Come with me.” Her eyes twinkled as though she were keeping a secret.
I followed her down the narrow aisle toward the back of the bookmobile. She stopped at the second to the last shelf and removed a book from it.
“Here you go,” she said as she smiled at me. I looked down at the cover of the book and read the title: Little Women. by Louisa May Alcott.
Cover of Little Women (Unabridged Classics)
As I opened the cover she said, “It’s a wonderful story about four sisters and their mother and father.”
“Really?” I answered.
“Yes,” she nodded her head, “This is just the book for you. I think you will enjoy it. Let’s go back to the desk and check it out for you. Do you have a library card?”she asked.
“No,” I replied as I shook my head.
“That’s okay. We will make you a brand-new a library card.”
I followed her back to the front of the bookmobile and waited as she sat down behind the desk. She asked for the rest of my information so she could prepare the card. As she was doing this, I read the first page of the book and I knew it was going to be a wonderful story. As I was turning to the second page, she handed me the library card.
I held the card tightly in my hand, as though it was a special key — and indeed it was — the key to acquiring more books!
“When you finish reading this book, then come back next week and you may check out another book,” she smiled at me.
“Thank you,” I grinned. I was filled with so much happiness I thought my heart would burst.
My mother and three younger sisters were still in the back of the bookmobile, looking at books for kindergartners and preschoolers. As I waited for them, I read three more pages and by then, I was lost in another world. At last my mother and sisters finished. I could hardly wait to get home so I could read more.
I think I skipped all the way home. I held my book close to my chest, as though it were a precious treasure I had just found and did not want to lose. When we arrived at our house, I immediately headed for my bedroom. I closed the door to my bedroom and lay down on my bed. I opened the book and began to read. Soon I was in the world which Louisa May Alcott had created, and I never wanted to return.
All through the summer, on every Wednesday afternoon, you could find me at the bookmobile. Miss Marge always knew which were the best books for me. I remember reading Little House On The Prairie, Pippi Longstocking, and Betsy and Tracey. Sometimes my friends and I would have reading parties. As soon as we returned home from the library, we would spread a blanket beneath the big oak tree, and there we would lie on our stomachs, reading our books.
I had no desire to watch the television; I found reading to be much more rewarding. At bedtime I would smuggle my book under the blankets and while holding a flashlight, I would read until my mother would catch me in the act and say, “Cindy, it is time for sleeping, not reading.” But she always had a little smile on her face, even though she was trying to be stern.
Ever since then, I have always been an avid reader. I love reading about new places, new people, and new stories. I’ve found that I can let my imagination take me there, inside the book. I taught my children to read before they entered kindergarten, and to this day, each one is also an avid reader — bookworms just like me.
I believe that reading is a very special gift. It is a gift which every child should be given. It is a gift which will always remain with you, and no one can ever take this gift away from you. When I think of all the people in the world, children and adults alike, who cannot read, I am saddened. Reading is so special. Reading is the key to knowledge.
When I look back upon those days, I realize how very special they were to me. The bookmobile will always hold a special place in my heart, as will Marge, the librarian. I will never forget her.
QUOTE FOR THE DAY: “One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” ~ Carl Sagan ~