My reading life began with a picture book called The Littlest Rabbit. I would solemnly quote the first page, “Everybody is bigger than I am,” entertaining my family by (unknowingly) speaking the truth about my place in the big, wide world. That world placed limitations on what I could do and where I could go, but the book world — my world — was simultaneously about discovery and adventure, safety and familiarity, a place I could set the rules and make the boundaries, carry the flashlight and lead the way. My book world was a place I could revisit as often as I wanted, relaxing in the steadiness of treasured words and friends.
In that place I encountered Little Bear and his birthday soup, Timmy Tiptoes and his terrifying entrapment in a tree, and Pooh and Piglet singing through a snowstorm (tiddley pom). I devoured books about Aslan, that lion who wasn’t safe but good, and Laura, a girl who lived so very long ago bears and panthers lived outside her door, and a penny in her Christmas stocking was worth celebrating. There was Ramona (a girl who said exactly what she thought, bravely doing the things I didn’t dare try on my own), Nancy Drew, and the boy wonder, Leroy Brown, who figured out the most puzzling mysteries and put the world to rights. There was Anne Shirley, who imagined and dreamed and long for puffed sleeves. And Arriety, with her Borrowed name and cigar box bed.
I loved Charlie, with his hard-won golden ticket in hand; Taran, the pig boy turned hero; and Edmund Dantes, the innocent imprisoned in the Chateau D’If. Doctor Doolittle and Scarlett O’Hara. Guy Montag and Mary Poppins.
I learned about the Holocaust while reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, about the middle ages while reading Katherine, and the French Revolution while reading Desiree. I learned about heartache alongside Jody when he lost his beloved Flag. (Rereading The Yearling as an adult, I ached in a new way — as a parent watching a child face hardship for the first time). I learned compassion reading Follow My Leader and Mine For Keeps.
“I am a part of everything that I have read,” John Kieran said, and my life echoes this truth, for who I am is richer, broader, and kinder because of my book world and the characters who’ve met me there.
Caroline Starr Rose is the author of MAY B. (2012) and forthcoming OVER IN THE WETLANDS (2014). She also is a former upper elementary and middle school teacher. You can find her on the internet at http://www.carolinestarrrose.com.