a head full of words

January 18, 2005

A 5-year old freckle-faced tomboy, I sat cross-legged on the floor with my classmates, listening to the tales of Dick, Jane, and Spot, and repeating after Miss Deacon, “roof,” “book,” “look,” carefully copying her correct British pronounciation, as we were instructed to do.From that point on, I was hooked. Just a short time after the first term of boarding school that year, I had mastered the art of reading, and was reading voraciously.

It was later on that books became more than just a hobby–they were a lifeline after my happily simple childhood was rocked by our family tragedy. Suddenly books were an escape–beautiful worlds of fantasy where life was kinder than the real world. I read, and re-read classic works of fantasy, fiction, and fairy tale.

I needed these books desperately, and then was embarassed at how much emotion they wrought. Once, when reading Where the red fern grows, I was moved to tears, and then was bawling my eyes out. Embarassed, I crouched behind the couch in the living room to cry in peace, knowing that our noisy household would keep my muffled sobs from giving me away. I was foiled, however, when our Boxer came to lick my face and whimper with me, giving away my hiding place.

Another embarassment came in the 7th grade–somehow, the summer previous to that year, my mother managed to keep track of the number of books I had read–I certainly wasn’t keeping track! At any rate, I was getting ready to start at a new school, moving from my small elementary school to a large college preparatory girls’ middle and high school. So, here I was, a shy new student at the first day of classes, in opening, school-wide assembly.

Suddenly, the headmaster said he had a special announcement. He said that a new student had read 100-some books over the summer, announced my name and asked me to stand up to everyone could applaud–I was mortified, to say the least, proclaiming my nerdiness for all the cool upper schoolers to see. Now, mind you, I proclaim my own nerdiness for all the world, with pride :-)

Thanks to the completion of the core requirements, I have begun this semester to study my field in earnest–that being Children’s Literature. As a result, I have spent each night lately reading and studying various titles–some of which I read as a child and some that are new to me. My reaction to them is the same as my childhood response, in that I still laugh out loud and cry as I read.

A new feeling, however, has been surging in me as well. I no longer am content to simply enjoy the thrill of knowing that I am reading a quality work of literature; I now feel a swelling of intense longing to contribute somehow. Part of this is my years-old desire to spend my life cultivating in other children the same love of books and knowledge that I benefited so greatly from. But another part is the suspicion–a hesitant twinge of a hope, but a suspicion all the same–that maybe, just maybe, there is more in store for me than just sharing other people’s words.

Perhaps there is an outlet yet for all the words that have been swirling in my own head all these years. Perhaps there is a practical reason for the 25-year lifetime I have spent filing away mental images–snippets of portraits, stories, and memories. And perhaps I can use the experiences I have had to aid other children along the path of healing from life’s batterings.

I am fascinated–and occasionally frightened–by the power of quality children’s books to teach, move, and heal, and I am inspired by the prospect of helping young people discover this power as I did. There is no doubt in my mind that reading was more than just an escape for me as a child; rather, the literature I read played a vital and active role in my healing process.

You see, when I cried as I read Where the Red Fern Grows as a child, I was not simply crying for those dogs. Those were not simple tears–they were gut-wrenching sobs that leapt out of my closed-off heart. I cried for my father, for my mother, and for myself. The gifted author’s words allowed me to release all the grief that I could not let out on my own. Being too young to understand and process the pain I felt, I needed those stories to allow me to feel the emotions that I did not have the capacity to release on my own.

So, that said, I cannot help but wonder at the longing I have to play such a part for other children. No fruit has been born of it yet–frustrating as it is, I recognize that this could be a Godsend; the fact is that I need to focus on studies at the moment, if I do have free time, rather than being consumed by writing, as the seed of a book in my mind would no doubt lead to. And it could be that what I am feeling is simply the desire to guide others to quality children’s literature that I have discovered–that would certainly be a worthy goal for a lifetime.

But, could it be that there is also a home for my brain-full of words, somewhere in the not-so-distant future? Could there be a story inspiration on the horizon? Maybe so . . .

p.s. If I have any faithful blog readers out there, you may recall the event, in the not-so-distant past, that prompted my Where the Red Fern Grows memory. If so, the first to correctly tell me what it was wins a prize :-)

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