The Little Reader

 I was just sitting on a neighbor’s porch late one lazy Saturday afternoon this summer with a group of other neighbors. We were chatting, watching people saunter by when a young girl, around eight or nine years old walked down the lane carrying a book half the size of her. People who are lugging books around with them always interest me, but a child this age intrigued me. I was tempted to call out, “Hey, what are you reading?” but then I noticed she kept turning around, as if she was waiting for someone to catch up with her. Remembering how my own children didn’t like to be the focus of adult attention at that age, I reconsidered saying anything to her that might embarrass and discourage her admirable reading habits. She turned the corner and I was satisfied just to know there was at least one budding reader out there.            I went back to the adult conversation, lost in the banter about the latest political folly, when I heard the barrel deep voice of a man thundering outside. “Zoey! Zoey, you come right back here. Right now. This minute.” I crooked my neck to see a large middle-aged man with a Johnny Walker-red face strutting past the porch and around the corner.            “Don’t make me come after you,” he said. I feared for Zoey if she didn’t obey him, but more if she did.            “I just want to go to my special place and read,” she said, slowly approaching the corner where he now stood, planted like a prison guard.            “I don’t care what you want to do. You come back here.”            “I just want to read my book,” she said with quiet defiance. But he won, and she followed behind him, clutching her book to her chest, her chinned bowed down.            I learned from my friends that Zoey was part of a large clan that was having a noisy, chaotic barbecue that evening and that her “special place” was a quiet nook where three bunk beds had been built, one on top of another.            Zoey has stayed with me for a couple of weeks now. Not in my home, but definitely within my heart. I ache for the young reader who simply needed to escape from raucous social event and to retreat into a spot where she could crawl into her book. How many times when stuck in a social situation have I said to myself, I just want to crawl into bed with my book?            It’s like that for many of us. Readers who as children didn’t care if the book was too heavy or the words too long. Books were our friends.  If you were lucky, like I was, there was an adult nurturing your love of books, not a book brut, chastising it. When I was a child, I would visit my grandmother each summer at the seashore. I’d arrive as soon as school was out. “Nanna” would take me to the library and let me take out as many books as they would allow. We’d return to her screen porch filled with the smell of the ocean where she’d point to a cushioned daybed piled with pillows. “You go start one of those books while I get you a lemonade. You worked so hard this year in school, dear, you need to rest and read.”  Nanna didn’t think I needed her permission to read. To her, it was like a medical prescription, essential for health.            Before you can be a writer, you have to be a reader, and I thank Nanna for taking my hand and walking me through the door to the library. I hope for Zoey and children everywhere, a nurturing adult is serving you words next to your vegetables and yogurt. The world needs readers and writers.            Who nurtured you as a young reader?  Was it the door to becoming a writer?   

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