I’ve been reading since I was in kindergarten but have read continuously since the time in fourth grade my mother taped furry maroon mittens to my hands. I couldn’t do much more than turn a page, and in that way, chicken pox solidified my love of books.
As a librarian at the Arlington Public Library for the last 14 years, of course I still read. Before I worked at a library, I easily spent $100 a month on books. It was one of my budget line items… it still is, but I’ve cut it down by using the library. However, I wasn’t sure I still had as much passion for reading as that fourth-grade girl version of me, devouring words like sustenance — magical governesses sent to help the Banks family, girls in tornadoes — and dreaming of riding a pushmi-pullyu, a “gazelle/unicorn cross” with two heads (one of each) at opposite ends of its body.
That is, until another fourth-grade girl changed my mind.
The girl, Ashlyn, is a member of a Girl Scout troop I co-lead. I found out about her love of reading in the early stages of social distancing when I brought a badge kit over to her house so we could still “Girl Scout” together. She showed me all the books (at least 10) she had checked out from the library, and I was amazed at the fervor she had in her voice. I wanted to sit with her and talk books all day! I hadn’t wanted to do that in so long!
Ashlyn didn’t have chicken pox, but she had definitely been stuck in her house for longer than she wanted. She’s an athletic and dramatic child. She had the lead in her school play before the pandemic, and she still plays basketball and soccer on weekends. She also still has time to read tons of books from the library.
When I went back to her house last month to talk about reading and the library’s Summer Reading Challenge, Ashlyn had just run in the door, her pony tail swishing back and forth in rhythmic cadence. She was getting her after-school snack and trying to read at the same time. Her Percy Jackson paperback was already well-loved, and you could tell Ashlyn would rather be reading than eating, or talking about reading.
She began our conversation with her book open in one hand and her snack in the other. And in her mouth.
“My mom and dad get mad at me because I try and read while I’m supposed to be eating so I just eat my food as quickly as I can.”
I tell her that I relate so much with this because when I was first married, I would read at restaurants until my husband finally asked me not to.
“As much as I can, I read all the time,” Ashlyn continued, “but if there is something I have to do – like homework – I finish it as quickly as I can so I can get right back to reading.” She sits down holding her book. I’m thinking that talking to me is also one of the activities she would like to finish quickly so she can read again, so I thank her for letting me talk to her and start asking her questions.
When did you start reading?
Still reading her book, Ashlyn started to answer. As she did, her voice came alive and she forgot about the book long enough to talk to me. Her mom, Julie, took it out of her hand.
“I’ve been reading pretty much since first grade when I first figured out syllables. I really like reading because it is wonderful and amazing, it helps you imagine things, and it gives you facts. If there were no books, you wouldn’t be able to learn piano.”
I asked her if she knew how to play piano. She gestured to the piano behind her. “I do actually. I’ve been playing for about a year and a half.”
Very cool. So, the first books you remember are from first grade? Did your parents read to you before that?
“Well, I remember my mom reading to me almost every night before I went to sleep. Dad probably did at least once.”
So at bed time, she snuggled you in.
So that’s a good mom.
“Yes.” Ashlyn’s voice is certain as she looks at her mom. They share a brief moment of understanding, of love. Her mom moves the paperback a little further away from Ashlyn so she won’t be tempted to pick it up again.
Why is it important to know how to read?
“Because it is part of your life pretty much everywhere. If you couldn’t read, you wouldn’t know what is what. You might see a yield sign and think that it said accelerate.” I laugh hard when she says this, because she is so earnest and it is also so true.
That is a very good reason. Besides signs, what do you like to read now?
“I like reading fiction. Whenever I go to the library, I scour the shelves for the books that I’ve read. But sometimes I look for new things. Like there’s this author I really like, Rick Riordan.”
She looked wistfully at the paperback, but also to remind herself how to pronounce his name – she had said it correctly, but was unsure. “However you say his name. And I can’t find any new books of his.”
At this point, I go into librarian mode and nerd out a bit because I’ve ALSO read Rick Riordan and have enjoyed his books. I explain that he has written books for teenagers and adults and that maybe when she is older, she can read those books. Maybe her mom could read some of his mysteries so they can share a love for the same author? Julie chuckles at the interlude and says that she does like mysteries, but is noncommittal about reading one of his books. I turn back to Ashlyn. I have a feeling I know the answer to the next question since Riordan’s children’s books are fantasy books based on Greek myths.
What kind of genres do you like reading?
“My favorite genre is probably fantasy fiction.” Nailed it. “It just takes you into another world. Completely. It helps you understand what could and what could not happen, and it even helps you envision the impossible. Grownups…some grownups just get all serious all the time. And just stare at computers for hours. But I think when they read a fantasy novel, it helps bring them back to childhood.”
Interesting. I don’t disagree. What’s your favorite part of the book you are reading right now?
“My favorite part, and I hope this isn’t too cheesy, is when in The Last Olympian Annabeth and Percy kiss and they have these stalkers…well, friends spying on them, and they barge in and then throw the couple in the river. But then again, he’s the son of Poseidon so he made an air bubble around them.”
Yeah. It’s kind of embarrassing to be caught kissing.
“But then again, it’s hilarious.” Also not untrue.
Is there anything else you would like to tell people about reading?
“I hate it when my mom makes me leave the library. When I am at the library, I have my fingers gently dusting the books. I see which ones look right for me. If a book catches my eye, I read the summary.”
She pauses in thought.
“I think everyone should know that reading is one of the best things you can do. Reading is one of the most fantastic parts of life and we are so lucky to be in a day and age where we have access to books. I’ve been pouring my heart out and most of my heart belongs to books.”
With this said, she asks if we are done, picks up the book, and starts reading again. I turn off my recorder and say my goodbyes. I’ve found a kindred spirit. And a rekindled love for books.
Join the Arlington Public Library for a fun-filled summer by taking the Summer Reading Challenge! This year’s theme is Discover Your Story, and participating is easy with challenges for every age group. Kids can complete a row on our activity bingo card to receive a free book. Teens can earn an entry into a weekly prize drawing with the activity bingo card. Adults simply need to read a book and attend a program to be entered into a weekly prize drawing. Read a book, try a literacy activity, make a craft, interact with family and friends, and more! Don’t miss this season of summer fun with the Arlington Public Library. The Summer Reading Challenge runs from June 1 to July 31, and you can pick up your activity card at any library location.