Nerdy Newbery (honor)

C.S. Lewis once said, “We read to know we’re not alone.” That certainly describes one of the reasons I read as a kid. Growing up, I attended five grade schools, two junior highs and two high schools. And this was in a time when people tended to stay put. I also wore glasses and had a weird name (Kirby Miltenberger) so new schools weren’t much fun. I quickly learned that, no matter where I went, I could always find a friend between the covers of a book.

I spent so much time with my nose buried in books that one grade school teacher wrote on my report card that I needed “to spend less time with stories and more time with schoolwork.” After that, I worked harder in school, but kept right on reading. Third grade brought a program called SRA – and it ruined me as a reader. You had to start at the lowest level (was it orange?) and pass a test before you could move on to the next color level, and so on. I quickly figured out that the best stories were in the top section (turquoise?) so I rushed through all the other colors to get there. That turned me into a reader who devours, rather than savors.

What did I read outside of school? At my grandpa’s house, I’d disappear into the basement where my dad’s old comics (sadly, long gone) were stored: Batman, Green Lantern, even Little Lulu and Richie Rich. The story line that most fascinated me was the Bizarro world in Superman. The characters looked like they were drawn by Picasso’s slightly demented younger cousin. I vacillated between secretly hoping such an alternate world existed and being terrified that it did.

After trips to the public library, I’d settle in with books like Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, and National Velvet, and those fake biographies of famous people like Florence Nightingale (anyone else old enough to remember those?), and the wonderful Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron, and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. I idolized Encyclopedia Brown’s ability to solve mysteries, and dreamed of becoming a detective just like him (a dream I’ve achieved, in a way, as a writer of historical fiction). Somehow, I totally overlooked classics like Charlotte’s Web or Anne of Green Gables, though I read them later.

At home, I’d get lost in a lovely collection we had put out by Doubleday, called Junior Deluxe Editions. They had colorful bindings and inviting covers and I read and re-read them, especially the fairy tales.

As much as I loved reading as a kid, I did have this one funny quirk: I HATED writing book reports or making dioramas or talking about the books I’d read. I wanted to keep “my” stories and my feelings about them all to myself. Now, I love talking books with anyone who will listen. And even people who might not want to listen. In fact, stop reading this post right now and go read Tom Angleberger’s Horton Halfpott, Linda Urban’s Hound Dog True, or anything by Karen Cushman or Barbara O’Connor!

Bio: Kirby Larson is the author of ten books for young readers,including the 2007 Newbery Honor book, HattieBig Sky. In addition to her historical fiction (The Fences Between Us; TheFriendship Doll), Kirby has partnered with Mary Nethery to write twoaward-winning nonfiction picture books, TwoBobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival, and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine anda Miracle. She also owns a tiara.