Or, The Power of Enchantment
How much do you remember about reading in early childhood? I ask because I’m always bemused when I see other peoples’ statements about learning to read at age 3 or 4 and remembering the very moment they realized they could make sense of the squiggles on the page.
I ask because I have no such memories.
I know what my mother told me about my early childhood reading: that as soon as I could sit up in my crib (which would have been about age 6 months), she’d come in after my nap and find me sitting in the crib, with a Little Golden Book on my lap, babbling as if I were reading; that as I got older I’d know if she tried to skip pages because I had all the books memorized. I even remember my favorite Little Golden Books:
But I have no memory of being read to.
At some point I learned to read, though I don’t remember when that magical moment occurred. My mother also told me that, as a kid, I always had my nose in a book. Getting my hands on books as a child was easy. I grew up in a rural small town. The town library, which had originally been a one-room school, was in a field on the hill below the former farm house where we lived. I could get to it without even having to cross a road. I remember how welcoming the library felt on a winter day when I opened the door and was greeted by the warmth of the wood fire in the big potbellied stove.
But the only book I remember getting from that library is Flibbity Jibbitt. I know I took it home several times, but, other than the title, I remember nothing about it.
I have to take my mother’s word for my early childhood reading because I have very few memories of my own about it. But memory is a funny thing. Although I know I read the entire Little House series of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I didn’t remember doing so until I read one of the books to my young daughter, a surreal experience that I’ve described here (item #3). And I know I also read Caddie Woodlawn as a child, even though I had to read it again as an adult to remember the story.
Other than these books, though, I draw a blank when someone asks what books meant the most to me when I read them as a child. Not only do I not remember when I learned to read, I also don’t remember how the experience of reading particular books affected me. Wouldn’t you expect a child who always had her nose in a book—and who spent the subsequent 65+ years studying literature—to remember more about those early books?
I was in eighth or ninth grade when I came upon the novel All the King’s Men (item #2) by Robert Penn Warren. Reading that book allowed me to see how well written fiction works. I appreciated the first-person point of view and the coming-of-age plot, and recognized the symbolism (including the significance of the narrator’s name, Jack Burden) and imagery. I consider this novel my introduction to adult reading.
Recently, when I opened The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, I immediately fell into a story that scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. Perhaps I should call this experience enchantment. And it made me imagine that this is how I must have felt reading as a child, when the whole world was new and every book provided the opportunity to learn a little bit more about it. Another recent book that made me feel the same way was 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.
Memory works differently for each of us. These are my recollections of reading. I’d be interested in hearing yours, especially about childhood reading. Do you know at what age you learned to read? Do you personally remember that moment, or, like me, do you have to rely on what other people have told you? Do you remember particular books from your childhood?
© 2023 by Mary Daniels Brown