Patience and Persistence Pays Off by Kelly Light
I can remember the feeling of sitting in first grade class, my heart beating wildly, trying to slide down on my little blue chair behind the kid in front of me and saying over and over again in my head, “Oh…Ms. Bianci…don’t pick me, don’t pick me, don’t pick me…”
I was a kid who had trouble learning to read. I had a speech impediment. I had a lisp and trouble with my “S’s, my L’s, my R’s and my W’s”. I think I must have sounded like a little girl version of Elmer Fudd… just add a little Sylvester to that.
It was 1976 and I had moved mid-year during first grade to the Jersey Shore. Ms. Bianci, my teacher, had me stand in front of the class on my first day and say “Hello to the Class.”
When the kids laughed, I shut up, locked the mouth and threw away the key.
In class, of course, we had to read aloud, but I would not let those letters get me. I refused to read.
After a few weeks of this, my parents were called in. We were alone in the classroom after school. I had that queasy “I’m in twouble” feeling as Ms. Bianci told them that when she called on me to read aloud, I would shake my head NO.
My mom and dad told my teacher that I read all of the time at home. I had stacks of Archie and Harvey comics everywhere and my favorite BIG book of “What do People Do All Day” by Richard Scarry. They told Ms. Bianci I would sit and draw and read and draw and….
“I read the picthurz” – I said.
There. It was out. I couldn’t really read.
My father took it on as his personal mission to have me up to first grade reading level before the end of the school year. Every night we would sit for an hour and I would read with him, out loud.
We started off with all of his old, Catholic school readers. Then, he began to come home after work with little books from the store. Golden Books, Wonder Books, I can Read books with Saggy Baggy Elephant, the Color Kittens, Sammy the Seal, the Cat in the Hat and Sam I Am. Every time I proved I could read one of these all by myself, out loud, I could get the next book. Each book became a coveted prize won by my own hard work and achievement. Poky Little Puppy lead to Go Dog Go!, The Best Word Book Ever lead to Mr. Pine’s Purple House then lead on to To Think That It Happened on Mulberry Street!.
As I got better at reading and pronouncing things correctly, I was building my own library, meeting new characters, inspired to draw by the illustrations and falling in love with reading.
At the end of the school year, I brought in my favorite “What do People Do All Day” book to class and Ms. Bianci had me stand in front of the class and read my favorite page about Able Baker Charlie, out loud. They bake a loaf of bread so big, the whole Busy Town can eat it and Lowly Worm pokes right out of the loaf!
I know, for certain, the importance of a parent reading with a child. My dad had no idea then, that I would go on to make books for children some day. He was being a good dad trying to make sure that his child would do well at school. My mother was the book lover who handed me some of her own favorite books as I got older: Little Women, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Jane Eyre. By that time, I was an avid reader with my own favorites, From the Mixed–Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and A Wrinkle in Time.
On the shelves in my studio sit many of my original books from when my dad would sit and read with me. The books that I lost through the years, I have scoured the internet for. When they come in the mail, I rip open the package and it is like seeing an old friend again.
So much more came out of my struggle with learning to read than my ability to read aloud and pronounce my letter sounds. I developed a closer relationship with my dad and with books. I now have a fourteen-year-old daughter who I call “The wood chipper” because she reads THAT many books. I could not wait to buy my own baby books! I started the day I found out I was pregnant! I bought one Dr. Seuss and One Richard Scarry. She has grown up having book discussions and she is my go-to critic and book reviewer. Her love of reading gives me a feeling of security about her that she will always have books to keep her company and inspire her imagination.
I think I’ll go up to my studio and visit my old friend, Lowly Worm. Thanks Nerdy Book Club for having me and for all that you do for readers.
Kelly Light lives in New York but grew up down the shore in New Jersey surrounded by giant roadside dinosaurs, cotton candy colors, and Skee-Ball sounds. She was schooled on Saturday-morning cartoons andSunday funny pages. She picked up a pencil, started drawing, and never stopped.
Kelly has illustrated two chapter book series: Elvis and the Underdogs and Elvis and the Underdogs: Secrets, Secret Service, and Room Service by Jenny Lee, and the Quirks series by Erin Soderberg. Louise Loves Art is the her first picture book in the Louise series with her as both author and illustrator. She is currently illustrating a book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, called Don’t Blink! – which is a bed time book with a few surprises and the second Louise book is on deck.