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Friday, March 18, 2016

Growing A Reader with Denis Markell, author of Click Here To Start

This Was The Sixties, After All...
by Denis Markell

I have a feeling there will be many, many writers remembering their parents reading to them at bedtime. At least I hope so. Long before we had our son (where I was able to have the other joy of reading to your child), I always said that associating books with a mother or father “doing the voices” is one of the most reliable and simplest ways to start a child on the way to loving reading. The feeling of a parent (or grandparent, or caregiver) close by, preferably offering a lap to snuggle in, or arms to lie between with the book spread out in front of you is a gift that is both beyond price and so easy to give. 

I have such memories of Winnie-the-Pooh! My father’s rumbling voice becoming squeaky when he would read Piglet’s lines, or stuffy and self-important when reading Owl. Of course I also remember the smell of cigarettes and scotch, (this was the sixties, after all) but that’s for another post! We had a traditional family unit back then, with my father going off to his job as a TV producer (whatever that was) and my mother staying with my sister and me.

By the time he would come home and change out of his jacket and tie (this was the early sixties – turtlenecks would come later!) we would have finished our dinner and be ready for bed. So our time with him would be these read-alouds. We read everything in those days, from Babar and Madeline to early Sendak and of course Seuss. And then the magic day came when I was about three and read Green Eggs and Ham out loud to my parents. For the first time, I was the one doing to the reading out loud, and “doing the voices.” And I haven’t stopped to this day! 

Our summers were spent in Long Island, in the bucolic beach community of Shelter Island, at the end of Long Island. It was about a three hour drive from the city (we lived in Brooklyn, as I still do now) but it felt like forever. And once there, it was “the country.” No television except for one channel and on a good day maybe one other. No videos, no internet, not even air conditioning. This meant that other than board games and card games (usually won by my older and smarter sister, much to my annoyance) there weren’t many diversions. To see a movie you would need to take a ferry off the Island, a special trip reserved for only one or two times a summer.

But there was the library. When I was ten, we moved to a house about one city block or so away from the Shelter Island library. In those days, our daily lives read almost like a somewhat corny children’s book – we would eat wineberries off of the bushes, tan until we were the color of the little girl in the Coppertone ad, walk around all day in our bare feet, and bike everywhere without cell phones or any way for our parents to reach us, and generally have a sense of independence that you couldn’t get living in the city.

As the summer progressed into July and the weather got hotter and stickier, our house was so humid and stuffy that we spent all our time outside, trying to keep cool by staying in the water at the beach as long as we could, or lingering over lunch at the small counter of the diner that sold newspapers and comic books.

But the best oasis of all was the air-conditioned library. Living so close, I could bike or walk there whenever I wanted. I have to admit, it wasn’t exactly charming, it was brand new, reflecting the “no frills” architecture of schools and libraries of its era. Just a bulky red brick rectangle with big double doors. 

But once those doors opened and that blast of cool air and book smell hit you, it was heaven. I would spend endless afternoons there, reading everything I could get my hands on. This was around 1968 or so, which meant that the great Middle Grade series and other books written for kids our age hadn’t been written yet. Other than Harriet the Spy, most of the books I would read had little to do with my life or kids my age. One of the only series I can think of - which I read and re-read - were the Narnia books. Perhaps because of their “English-ness” they reminded me of the Winnie-the-Pooh books I so loved as a little boy.

Of course I should add that in 1968 much of America was in turmoil (as was so much of world) – reading Most Dangerous with my son (Steve Sheinken’s brilliant account of these years) brought those times back so powerfully. So perhaps the land of Narnia (and the library) offered an escape from the world outside, where the struggles and fights couldn’t be solved with magic swords and bows and arrows. 

Raised in a non-observant Jewish family, the Christian symbolism was completely lost on me, and I read them as straight fantasy stories, somewhat enthralled and baffled by Aslan’s treatment (they tied him to a table? He dies and comes back?) and other elements of the story which gained completely new meanings once the connection to the New Testament was shown me by my amused college roommate many years later. But at the time, the wonderful illustrations and bickering between the children enthralled me (more than the meandering and long winded Elves, Wizards and Hobbits that I tolerated to get through the Fellowship of the Ring). Of course, libraries didn’t have computers or media of any kind then, other than the racks of newspapers that the older patrons would sit and thumb through by the hour, enjoying the free air conditioning with us kids. I don’t think there was even such a thing as a children’s librarian there so it was up to us to wander through the rows of books and find something that caught our attention. Sitting in the quiet coolness of a library on a summer vacation with your favorite book, rereading it for the fourth or fifth time...what could be better? 


About the Author
This is Denis Markell’s first novel, and he took writing it very seriously, playing hours and hours worth of escape-the-room games for research (or so he told his family). He also cowrote an award-winning Off-Broadway musical revue and wrote a few musical comedies for the stage; various and sundry sitcoms; a play with Joan Rivers; an episode of Thundercats; two picture books illustrated by his wife, Melissa Iwai—The Great Stroller Adventure and Hush, Little Monster—and Poser, a memoir of his years as a male model.

(One of these things is not true.)

He lives in a small apartment in Brooklyn with Melissa; their son, Jamie; and a Shetland pony name Ronaldo.

(One of these things is not true.)

About Click Here to Start
What if playing video games was prepping you to solve an incredible real-world puzzle and locate a priceless treasure?

Twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great- uncle dies and bequeaths him all the so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game!

Using his specially honed skills, Ted sets off to win the greatest game he’s ever played, with help from his friends Caleb and Isabel. Together they discover that Uncle Ted’s “treasure” might be exactly that—real gold and jewels found by a Japanese American unit that served in World War II. With each puzzle Ted and his friends solve, they get closer to unraveling the mystery—but someone dangerous is hot on their heels, and he’s not about to let them get away with the fortune.
  Learn more about the Growing A Reader series here!


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