I grew up inside one book or another. Libraries were my heaven—full of all kinds of books, thick tomes and skinny illustrated stories—15 books were never enough each week, but that was the limit. So I piled them up on the counter, showed my library card, got the books stamped, and struggled home with my wobbly stack. I read everything—the Little House series, all the Ramona books, MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, THE RED PONY, THE BLACK PEARL, ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, THE HOUSE OF DIES DREAR, even books whose titles I’ve long forgotten but whose covers still linger hazily in my mind.
I loved books. I didn’t know how to get around my city by car until I started driving, because I would plop myself down in the backseat, open a book, and not close it until long after the car had stopped moving. Stories took me from place to place—trips as short as the grocery store and as long as vacations to Washington D.C. and Boston. I felt a kinship with the characters I knew so well—I understood misunderstood Ramona, nodding sympathetically even when Beezus and her mother shook their heads disbelievingly. Of course the first bite of an apple is the best! I longed to wear a bonnet like Laura did, just so I could let it hang loose behind my head as I ran through sunny meadows, letting my face turn brown. I imagined myself in medieval times, pioneer days, in the midst of China with Eleanor Lattimore’s Little Pear and hunched down on the frosty tundra with Miyax. To this day, I feel a kinship with wolves, having read Jean Craighead George’s series over and over and over, until I could feel the permafrost on the tundra.
I took vacations in books. The frame of the family car or the walls of my house would melt away and I’d lose myself in the details of stories, immersed in a brand-new climate and surrounding. My imagination was vast and filled with destinations.
I never felt like much of a writer, though. I wrote, of course—the Pittsburgh Public School system had set up creative writing as part of the language arts curriculum in its grade schools and middle schools and so I composed poems and wrote stories I could never find an ending to, and I always felt like I was trying to walk a tightrope without ever having tried to before. The safety net below me was full of the stories I liked to read, stories I knew were far, far better than anything I was attempting to create.
Next time...I discover my inner critic!