Books Become Your Home by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Each year at Christmas time an ornament is unwrapped from its tissue paper and placed on the tree. Usually near the back where no one can see it. It is an ornament only in the loosest sense of the word. It is a photograph with a hook pressed through the paper so it can hang on the tree. My older brother took the picture when he was in eighth grade, which puts the date at about 1986.
In the photograph my mother and I are in my bed. Rainbows dot the wallpaper behind the wicker headboard. We both have goofy smiles. In between us on the bed is a book. Like all photographs this one captures the moment, but for me, it also holds years of memories. Every night until I was in sixth grade my mother and I read together.
I remember a streak of reading books about girls named Meg or Megan, like Megan’s Island by Willo Davis Roberts. I remember Ramona trying so hard not to pull Susan’s beautiful curl just to hear it go “Boing!”. I remember Charlotte and Soup and Pippi and countless other characters dancing out of the pages and into my bedroom.
We read Newbery winners, so when my fifth grade students studied Newbery books this year, those titles from the 1970s and 1980s were like old friends. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson? I sniffle just hearing the title. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George? That brings back simultaneous memories of Alaska’s frozen landscape and the warmth of being pressed close to my mother. Abel’s Island by William Steig? There has never been a better mouse adventure story (all due respect to Despereaux, of course). I close my eyes and there is poor, proper Abel carried along in the river, torn away from his beloved Amanda.
The books we read together that hit me the hardest and stayed with me the longest, though, were probably Cynthia Voigt’s novels of the Tillerman family. There I was, nestled in the crook of my mother’s arm, trading off reading pages aloud: I was as far from Dicey and her siblings abandoned at the shopping mall as I could be. And yet I traveled alongside them, felt every stab of disappointment and small victory. As a child I didn’t understand Gram: cold as the ocean, with just as much salty sting. Since then I left the cocoon of blankets and bumped up against life enough that I understand her fears.
I can’t say that parents reading with children will make them writers, but certainly the books my mother and I read together influenced my writing. Nor can I say conclusively that it made me a reader, though numerous studies suggest this to be the case. What I do know is that when you build a home with books, books become your home.
Megan Frazer Blakemore is the author of The Water Castle (Walker, 2013) and Secrets of Truth & Beauty (Disney-Hyperion, 2009). Visit her online at www.meganfrazerblakemore.com