Growing A Reader
by Rebecca Behrens
When I was in elementary school, my teacher read Where the Red Fern Grows aloud to our class. We all got so into the story, begging her to read just one more page, just one more chapter. Eventually the story hit a point where our class had to keep reading to the end. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say it was sad.
As she read the last few chapters, my teacher’s voice started to waver. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes. She started to cry, and so did much of the class.
Sometimes it’s scary to let a book move you—to really open yourself up to the emotions on the page, and those the book stirs in you. But watching my teacher weep while reading was powerful. It made us feel safe, because she showed that it’s okay to get emotional about characters and stories. That the feelings you have while reading are worth acknowledging—and sharing with others. Reading became a communal experience for us. Even kids who didn’t often have a lot of common ground—we all shared the emotional journey of reading that book.
There was a palpable sense of togetherness as my teacher turned the last pages. It’s one of the most beautiful reading memories I have.
Freedom is a bicycle and a library card. I spent my summers as a kid pedaling to the Sequoya branch of the public library. I’d stock up on books—Nancy Drew mysteries, Babysitters Club, Judy Blume, Ann Rinaldi’s historical fiction, the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Then I’d hop back on my bike to head to the pool.
I’d spend hours stretched out on a towel or a lounge chair (if the lifeguards were letting kids use them), reading in between dips in the pool. I stayed hydrated by drinking cans of metallic-tinged Country Time lemonade. Sometimes I’d buy ice-cream pops from the Snack Shack, which I’d have to eat quickly and carefully, so the melting ice cream didn’t run down my arm and onto the pages. (I kind of hate to think about all the sunscreen smears and droplets of lemonade I might’ve gotten on those library books!)
If it was a day when my mom drove us to the pool, my sister and I would beg her for a stop at Waldenbooks or Half Price on the way home. While our wet hair dripped down our shoulders, we’d sit cross-legged on the bookstore floor, trying to pick which titles would be added to the pool bag. It was always so hard to choose!
These salient memories of summer reading are part of why I am drawn to stories set during long, hot days—both in my reading and writing. Summertime was when I became not just a reader but a voracious one. And I still do my best reading that time of year. In fact, I start my summer reading list in the dead of winter, just so I can look forward to days long enough to lose track of time with a good book.
My favorite book as a tween was Walk Two Moons. In one memorable scene, Salamanca and her grandparents actually stop in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. In Sharon Creech’s words, “it seemed as if the whole city was on vacation, with people riding around on their bikes and walking along the lakes and feeding the ducks and eating and canoeing and windsurfing.” I’d never read a truer description of my city. (In fact, this was probably the first time I’d ever read fiction that mentioned my hometown, and I was ridiculously excited about it.)
That October, my mother took me to see Sharon Creech speak and sign copies at a university event. As far as I can remember, that event was the first time I’d met a real, live author. I hold something like a flashbulb memory of being in the dark-paneled room and watching Creech describe writing Salamanca’s story. All of a sudden I realized that books don’t simply appear on a shelf; people work hard to put them there. Storytelling still seemed like magic—but I understood more about how authors are magicians. I read books differently after hearing her speak about her craft—still in awe, but recognizing some of the elements she’d described at work.
I was nervous as I waited in the line, and the moment that she signed my book is a blur of excitement. But I do remember how warm and kind she was, and how she made each reader feel special. For days afterward, I kept opening my signed copy just to see that she had written my name in it, along with a “Huzza, huzza!” Now whenever I am back in my childhood bedroom, I pull my old favorites off the bookshelf for a look. This copy of Walk Two Moons is always the first in my hand.
About the Author
Rebecca Behrens lives and writes in New York City, where she also works as a textbook editor. She is the author of When Audrey Met Alice, which BookPage called “a terrific work of blended realistic and historical fiction.” Her next novel, Summer of Lost and Found, will be published in May 2016. Some of Rebecca’s favorite things are: the beach, history, running, doughnuts, and laughing.
About Summer of Lost and Found
Nell Dare expected to spend her summer vacation hanging out with her friends in New York City. That is, until her botanist mom dragged her all the way to Roanoke Island for a research trip. To make matters worse, her father suddenly and mysteriously leaves town, leaving no explanation or clues as to where he went—or why.
While Nell misses the city—and her dad—a ton, it doesn’t take long for her to become enthralled with the mysteries of Roanoke and its lost colony. And when Nell meets Ambrose—an equally curious historical reenactor—they start exploring for clues as to what really happened to the lost colonists. As Nell and Ambrose’s discoveries of tantalizing evidence mount, mysterious things begin to happen—like artifacts disappearing. And someone—or something—is keeping watch over their quest for answers.
It looks like Nell will get the adventurous summer she was hoping for, and she will discover secrets not only about Roanoke, but about herself.
About When Audrey Met Alice
First daughter Audrey Rhodes re-creates Alice Roosevelt's infamous antics in this fun, smart middle-grade debut
First daughter Audrey Rhodes can't wait for the party she has planned for Friday night. The decorations are all set and the pizza is on its way. But the Secret Service must be out to ruin her life, because they cancel at the last minute-citing security breach and squashing Audrey's chances for making any new friends. What good is being "safe and secure" if you can't have any fun?
Audrey is ready to give up and become a White House hermit, until she discovers Alice Roosevelt's hidden diary. The former first daughter gives Audrey a ton of ideas for having fun...and more problems than she can handle.
Learn more about the Growing A Reader series here!