I don’t remember life without books.
According to my mother, I wore out five copies of “Pat the Bunny” before learning to read – which I did before starting kindergarten.
This did not endear me to Mrs. Ferris, my kindergarten teacher (“Kindergarteners aren’t supposed to read”). It especially did not endear me to my first-grade teacher, Helen Zoeckler.
I spent many an unhappy hour crying in Mrs. Zoeckler’s classroom, sometimes during school hours (making me <not> very popular with my classmates</not>) and sometimes when she would keep me after school, forcing me to repeatedly write words I already knew how to spell correctly. She did not define “crocodile tears,” a term she used derisively whenever I cried. (I didn’t know the word derisively then either, but all props to Mrs. Z for her brilliant illustration of the concept.) When my right-hand pointer finger was severed in the middle of my first grade year (I was right-handed), she moved my desk directly next to hers, facing my classmates, and made me write with my left for three months.
Helen’s true gifts – she would have made a great dominatrix or prison warden – were completely squandered on a generation of traumatized first graders. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that she was unmoved (or maybe even perversely aroused, but I’m not going there) by the misery of six-year-olds.
Dorothy MacDonald’s classroom was the next stop on my educational journey. My presence there afforded Dorothy an opportunity to sharpen her throwing skills.
Because her teaching and my learning styles were not exactly compatible, I found a better way to learn. This involved the artful placement of interesting reading material (mostly biographies, but pretty much any of the chapter books in our school library) in my lap, out of Dorothy’s view. She’d be droning on about something like math (which was not my friend) or spelling (which I rocked), and notice I’d tuned her out. Aiming to capture my attention and the respect she felt I owed her, she’d lob erasers at me. You can probably guess how that worked out – although at least she got some gratification via the appreciative laughter of my classmates.
I have no idea what became of those lovely ladies. In the nightmare closet of my imagination, I see them, hunched over a cauldron as a fire burns beneath it, cackling as they watch imaginary children roast for having had the audacity to learn to read without first suffering their <sarcastic font>loving</sarcastic font> ministrations.
In the end, all that early and under-desk reading paid off and I grew up to be, among other things, a book critic. I’ve written reviews for big-name and not-so-big-name publications. And that has put – and kept me – on publishers’ mailing lists, even though I took a break to go off and get my MLIS degree. (That is another story for another time, but it had nothing to do with my love of books.) Books still just show up in the mail. Also, I have plenty of amazing writer pals (including the kid sitting next to me in that photo – she’s my sister) and now that I’m done with my library degree, I’m building my very own pile of paper with words on it. I may share some of that here as things progress.
Getting back to that whole reviewing thing, though – expect some thoughts and opinions on books you may want to either check out yourself or acquire for someone who may like them.
Just remember to watch out for flying erasers.