Growing A Reader
by Natalie Lloyd
The One Where I Realized Books Build Bridges
(Also, Why I Refuse to Read Sad-Dog Books)
Back in the 80s and 90s, Burchfield Elementary School had a most magical component that set us apart from every other educational institution in the world: we had John Watson. Becoming part of Mr. Watson’s third grade was a special rite of passage. Every day, after lunch, Mr. Watson scheduled time for our read-aloud. The Watson Pick most people remember is Where the Red Fern Grows. Between you, me, and the worldwide web, the ending of that book is so horribly sad that I don’t want to think about it for longer than it takes to type this sentence. But! It definitely moved me. Mr. Watson had a way of picking books that connected so hard with my heart. (My favorite Watson Pick was Julie of the Wolves.)
Back then, I only knew that Mr. Watson’s Read-Aloud was my favorite part of the day. In retrospect, I think it became a keystone reading moment for me because I experienced the sense of community books could create in a classroom. Story became a neutral ground we all had in common, a way we could articulate our thoughts, feelings, and fears. And sometimes, it was just fun. Read-aloud helped us all relax. We weren’t tested on those books. We got to settle in and experience a story - which had value way beyond what any test could measure.
The One Where I Realized Books are Lifelines
(Also, Why I Search Ikea for Passage to Narnia)
It’s safe to say that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe rocked, rattled, and transformed my imagination. I am one of many who couldn’t wait to try Turkish Delight as an adult and … was woefully disappointed. (The White Witch occasionally leaves a box on the fancy-candy shelf at TJ Maxx. Do yourself a solid and step away.) My mom read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to me first. So, of course, I loved the story because I love her. Our nighttime read meant even more time we got to spend together. I also found magic in the pages as an independent reader. Aslan would call it “a deeper magic.” Narnia helped me through some tough days.
I was born with a bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, which caused lots of fractures when I was little. Through the immediate pain of breaking my leg - and during a long healing process - my imagination often drifted to my favorite story-worlds. Narnia, in particular. I would imagine Aslan roaring, and his roar made me feel brave. That’s when I learned that the stories I love so much might be fictional, but the courage I find in the pages is real. That courage is mine to carry, and hold on to through tough days. These books are also the reason I still check every wardrobe, closet and makeshift room at Ikea for passage to Narnia. Mr. Tumnus seems like an Ikea kind of guy to me. I just feel like that’s a way in.
The One That Helped Me Find a Kindred Spirit
(Also, Go ahead. Call me Carrots.)
In middle school, my parents gave me the whole set of Anne of Green Gables books for Christmas. Those books are still on my shelf, as frayed and well loved as a bunch of teddy bears. I don’t think I’ll ever connect with another fictional heroine the way I connect with Anne Shirley. She was imaginative, outspoken, over-the-top, and prone to daydream. She had a temper, and often said the wrong thing at the worst time. And she loved ferociously. She loved her family, her friends, and she fell in love with the boy down the lane. Because he was fun and kind and brought out the best in her. Gilbert Blythe is my eternal book-crush.
But it’s Anne who felt like a kindred spirit to me, because she helped me see that it was okay to move through the world in a different way. It’s okay to be awkward, imaginative, and obsessed with books and words. It is okay - better than okay - to be passionate about life. And it’s okay to mess up in the process of becoming. There’s no glass slipper moment for Anne; she just grows up. I think it’s pretty fabulous - in story-world and the real world - to be allowed space to just grow up.
I’m such an Anne-fan that, during college, my parents took our family on a trip to Prince Edward Island (where the novels are set). We walked through haunted woods and past a lake of shining waters. We explored a museum dedicated to Anne’s author, Lucy Maude Montgomery. Near the end of the trip, I remember us all standing together on the red cliffs, watching the sun set. My dad put his arm around me and said, “I’m so glad Lucy Maude Montgomery never gave up, aren’t you? Even when things got tough, I’m so glad she kept writing.” It still makes me teary, in a good way, when I look back and realize my parents weren’t just taking me there to connect with one of my favorite books. They were showing me - in this very bold, outspoken, Anne Shirley kind of way - that they believed the big dream I had in my heart meant something. Every time I see the pastel spines on my shelf, I remember that trip. And I think about how lucky I am to have parents who always helped me be braver than I thought I had it in me to be.
Natalie lives, writes, and daydreams in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When she’s not writing, she likes collecting old books, listening to bluegrass music, and exploring quirky mountain towns with her dog, Biscuit. A Snicker of Magic is her first novel. Her second novel, The Key to Extraordinary, is available now.
About The Key to Extraordinary
Everyone in Emma's family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous musicians--every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream.
For Emma, her own dream can't come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she'd do whatever it took to fulfill her destiny, and she doesn't want to let her mother down.
But when Emma's dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task--finding a legendary treasure hidden in her town's cemetery. If Emma fails, she'll let down generations of extraordinary ancestors . . . including her own mother. But how can she find something that's been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost?
With her signature blend of lyrical writing, quirky humor, and unforgettable characters, Natalie Lloyd's The Key to Extraordinary cements her status as one of the most original voices writing for children today.
About A Snicker of Magic
Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.
But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere---shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears---but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.
Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town . . . and her mother's broken heart.
Learn more about the Growing A Reader series here!