In the article, Book Pushing by Mary Lou Shuster, on one of my favorite blogs, The Nerdy Book Club, Mary Lou talks about a single book making a child a life-long reader or not. It made me think, what made me a life-long reader?
I owe a large debt to my Mom and Georette Heyer because as a child I rarely saw my mother without a book in her hand. Georgette Heyer was her favorite author; she read her books over and over again. The Grand Sophy was her favorite.
I have vivid memories of my mother recounting Heyer plots on long rides in the car. She liked the characters and the little details Heyer was so good at like the monkey and gaggle of goslings in The Grand Sophy. Other Heyer titles I remember my Mom recounting are Sprig Muslin, Cotillion, Bath Tangle and Frederica. She read other books, but Georette Heyer is the one I remember the most. These are not great literature, but great literature does not always a reader make.
Until I was in the fifth grade, I was in remedial reading. And the reason for this is an odd one, but I believe it to be true. In third grade, I purchased a scholastic book from the catalogues they gave us at school. It was called White Cloud. White Cloud was an untamable white stallion and I was just getting to the part where the horse either submitted to being ridden or was destroyed. I read the book at home and at school. I was reading White Cloud one day when the dismissal bell sounded; anxious to find out what happened to White Cloud, I hastily stacked my books together and rushed home. When I got there I had my school books, but White Cloud was missing. I retraced my steps from school to home several times and no sign of the book. It never turned-up and I never learned what happened to White Cloud. I was devastated. I think I was reluctant to read other books because I was afraid of losing them and never knowing what happened.
In fifth grade, my reading ability took off with the SRA readers. You would read a story and answer questions about it. There were different levels and if you got three, one hundred percents or did all the cards in a level, you moved up. It was a genius system. It was rare I needed to do more than three stories in a level. As I moved through the levels, I enjoyed the stories more and more. I did all the stories at level 12, the highest level, just to read the stories. I reached Level 12 in February and went back and did all the stories in each level. I hated the lower levels. I was the only student to reach level 12 even at the end of the school year and to read ALL SRAs.
Me and reading were on good terms; I read my first book from beginning to end, Man O’War. I remember reading a book about a boy going to summer camp and my fifth grade teacher read Harriet the Spy to us. I loved Harriet the Spy, but never thought to read it myself. There was a book called, Through a Brief Darkness. I have no memory of that one other than a girl on a plane. A book I do remember was called, Three Desparate Days where a teen girl who just got her driver’s license drives her grandmother from Florida to Michigan and they get car jacked, only they didn’t call it that then. The girl saves them all. Still, I never read a book unless I had to for homework. Sure, I picked the books, but it was an assignment.
I would like to say that in middle school I read Hamlet and was hooked for life, but that was not the case.
What did it was this:
I saw the episode of the Hardy Boys the night it first aired in September of 1977. Blonde hair, big brown eyes, that smile; I was smitten the minute I laid eyes on Joe Hardy. A few episodes later, he sings! That sealed it. The show was on once a week on Sunday and that was a long time to wait to see Joe (AKA Shaun Cassidy.) Suddenly the dull set of books that looked like mini encyclopedias stacked in the cart shelves of my 4th, 5th and 6th grade classrooms, took on a whole new importance. Sure Frank and Joe were 12 and 13 in the books, but, when
I read them, I saw Parker Stevens and Shaun Cassidy. I devoured the books. Suddenly the girl who read one or two books because she had to, choose to read ten before Christmas. The Green Ghost, While the Clock Ticked, The Sign of the Crooked Arrow; I could not get enough!
I read all The Hardy Boys I could bet my hands on and some of them twice. It goes without saying I had a major crush on Shaun Cassidy and that is what fueled my love of the Hardy Boys books. My crush faded, but my reading habit did not. I went on to read many books as a teen; Huckleberry Finn, Jaws, The Shinning, That Was Then This is Now, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Gone with the Wind. In fact, there are very few times from then on that I was not reading a book and most likely more than one.
Thank you Shaun Cassidy for a lifetime of adventure and enlightenment.
I did not know until doing research for this post that Frank W. Dixon, the credited author on the books, is a pseudonym for several ghostwriters. Brilliant marketing because the series can keep going without all the legal hassles.
I cannot credit Mr. Cassidy with inspiring me to write, though, that credit goes to Richard Thomas as John Boy Walton.