Growing A Reader
by Tricia Springstubb
I’m sitting on the floor of the A&P, beside a spin rack of Little Golden Books. My harried mother (I’ve got four younger brothers and sisters) is somewhere in the store, but I’m with the fish family, who are foiling a fisherman by hooking a big rubber boot on his line. I read this book every time we come grocery shopping. Now I wonder, why did such a silly story so deeply satisfy me? Maybe the theme of a family banding together to protect each other comforted me? Or maybe it was my favorite illustration, the one that showed the fisherman above and the fish family below at the same time. Two separate, simultaneous worlds: an idea that continues to fascinate me. I can’t remember ever worrying that the book would be sold and gone. Back then, if I loved a book, it belonged to me. Our relationship was exclusive, its world mine and no one else’s. I’d have been startled to see another kid reading my fish family book. Every week I re-read it, and every week I returned it to the rack until, at last, a miracle: my mother added its $.29 to the grocery bill.
No one ever had to encourage me to read. I’m one of the lucky, born to lose my way in words. The first book I could read was Dick and Jane. I loved Sally’s hair, which inspired a lifelong envy of curls, and Father’s dapper suits. A part of me knew these people weren’t real, but a much larger, uncontrollable part believed I knew them, and that somehow they knew me. As I grew, one of five kids in a crowded little house, no one paid any attention to what I read, and all my books came from the library. Once, when I was miserable with chicken pox, my friend Cynthia loaned me two of her books. Her books. She owned Mary Poppins and Pippi Longstocking. (Years later, I was jealous of her subscription to Seventeen Magazine, another unfathomable luxury.) I loved the stories, of course, but I think the reason they stand out in my memory is that the books themselves felt different. They were unlike library books, and not just because they lacked crinkly plastic covers. They had a different weight, an extra gravity. They were the first books I viewed not just as vehicles but as sacred objects in themselves. I remember thinking that Cynthia, who didn’t care all that much about reading, didn’t deserve them. Book lust. It was upon me.
For years I read solely for plot, for what would happen next. I got used to happy endings, and so I’ll never forget the shock of Flag’s death in The Yearling. That staggering blow to heart and mind! For the first time I thought, how could the author do that? I wondered it again when I read Mrs. Mike where two small children die of diptheria. (Looking up this title now, I see it was written for adults, so by then I must have infiltrated that section of the library). That life could be so fatally capricious and cruel was new knowledge for me. That a writer could face up to that knowledge and be brave enough to convey it was a revelation.
Later there was Jane Eyre, in the edition with Fritz Eichenberg’s terrifying wood engravings. Jane stole my heart. I loved that she was plain. I loved her conversations with Rochester. I considered the narrator unfair to the poor woman in the attic, and I pitied her fiery death. Most of all I loved the novel’s language, the earnest sentences with their semicolons and dashes and piled-on clauses building to an emotional crescendo that swept me up into a reading place I’d never been before. I was still crazy to know what would happen next, but now I also wanted to know why.
One last book: A Girl of the Limberlost. The copy I read had yellowed pages that gave off a whiff of mildew, calling up the swamp where Elnora hunted her specimens. Elnora and I both had complicated relationships with our mothers. Elnora’s was much meaner than mine, but both women hoarded their love, and were stingy with praise and affection. I remember reading the scene where Elnora’s mother, who bitterly opposes Elnora’s going to school, surprises her by packing an exquisite lunch for her to take. This scene opened some floodgate inside me. I understood how someone might love deeply but be unable to express it, how love takes many forms, how a good mother need not look like a TV mother. These were things I’d sensed in some deep, inarticulate place inside me, but now I had the words for them, and that made all the difference.
To turn the page and feel the world re-configure itself around you. To be a reader.
About the Author
Tricia Springstubb is the author of many acclaimed middle grade novels, including Moonpenny Island, What Happened on Fox Street, and Mo Wren, Lost and Found.
Tricia writes full time, having worked for many years as a children’s librarian in a public library; she is also a frequent book critic for a Cleveland newspaper. In 2009 one of her short stories won the Iowa Review Fiction Award, judged by Ann Patchett. She is also a recipient of an Ohio Arts Council grant for her work. The mother of three grown daughters, she lives with her husband, cats, and garden in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
About Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe
Not everything turns out to be as it first appears when Cody and her best friend, Spencer, navigate a neighborhood mystery and the start of a new school year.
Cody’s best friend, Spencer, and his parents are moving in with his grandmother right around the corner, and Cody can’t wait. For one thing, Cody needs Spencer to help solve the mystery of the never-seen Mr. Meen, who lives on the other side of the porch with a skull-and-crossbones sign in the window and an extermination truck out front. How’s Cody to know that a yellow jacket would sting her, making her scream "Ow! Ow!" just as they start spying? Or that the ominous window sign would change overnight to "Welcome home," only deepening the mystery? In this second adventure, Spencer’s new-school jitters, an unexpected bonding with a teacher over Mozart, and turf-claiming kids next door with a reason for acting out are all part of Cody’s experiences as summer shifts into a new year at school.
About Every Single Second
A single second. That’s all it takes to turn a world upside down.
Twelve-year-old Nella Sabatini’s life is changing too soon, too fast. Her best friend, Clem, doesn’t seem concerned; she’s busy figuring out the best way to spend the “leap second”—an extra second about to be added to the world’s official clock. The only person who might understand how Nella feels is Angela, but the two of them have gone from being “secret sisters” to not talking at all.
Then Angela’s idolized big brother makes a terrible, fatal mistake, one that tears apart their tight-knit community and plunges his family into a whirlwind of harsh publicity and judgment. In the midst of this controversy, Nella is faced with a series of startling revelations about her parents, friends, and neighborhood. As Angela’s situation becomes dangerous, Nella must choose whether to stand by or stand up. Her heart tries to tell her what to do, but can you always trust your heart? The clock ticks down, and in that extra second, past and present merge—the future will be up to her.
Tricia Springstubb’s extraordinary novel is about the shifting bonds of friendship and the unconditional love of family, the impact of class and racial divides on a neighborhood and a city, and a girl awakening to awareness of a world bigger and more complex than she’d ever imagined.
Learn more about the Growing A Reader series here!