MY STORYBOOK LIFE by Kathy Anne Cowie
I was born into a reading family. I did not know until I was older what a gift this was, or how rare. There were seven of us – two parents, five kids – and we each had our own passions when it came to reading. Dad read the newspaper and a variety of magazines that were never at risk for poaching (Popular Mechanics, Organic Gardening, the Burpee Seed Catalog); Mom read thick, crinkle-covered novels from the library, kept in towering piles on the night table by her bed. My three older brothers sometimes passed down their books to me, so I read Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, and A Wrinkle in Time. The best school days were Book Fairs or when the Scholastic flyers were passed down the aisle. Filled with the exact change and the form cut carefully on the dotted line, my book order envelope was one of the few items back to school before the due date.
My family took trips into NYC, and shopped for hours at the Barnes & Noble (back when there was only one) and their Annex across the street with its overflowing tables of used books. My Dad would dole out a few dollars to each of us and we would set off to find our own ten-cent treasures. We’d spend rainy afternoons at the library, and would bring books on vacation, to the pool, under the covers at night, and to the breakfast table in the morning. (Well we tried, but usually we had to make do reading the backs of the cereal boxes.) We played sports and had plenty of adventures outside, but reading was always a part of our lives.
When I was a teenager, my Mom went to college to become a teacher. She would bring stacks of picture books home from school, so my younger sister and I read them long after our friends had put them aside. My Mom’s time in school gave us permission to love them all over again, and to find new favorites we might otherwise have missed, like Miss Nelson is Missing, The Paper Bag Princess, or Miss Rumphius. We especially loved Strega Nona, and later, when she taught First Grade, my Mom made beautiful puppets out of wooden spoons to help her tell the story. Not long after this, I pried The World According to Garp from my brother’s hands because I watched him fall in love and I was jealous; the kind of love that involves a book, a couch, and not much of anything else for a long weekend.
I have so many reading memories, but one in particular stands out. I was in kindergarten one morning when my teacher announced a special guest. I don’t remember if I knew in advance it was to be my brother, who had come all the way from the elementary school (they didn’t have a kindergarten yet, so we went to separate schools). Just barely a year older, my brother was a special guest because he possessed a skill we all yearned for but had not yet achieved: he could read. I was so proud when my teacher led him to the piano bench where we gathered on the floor around him.
I beamed as he read Louis Slobodkin’s story, Up High and Down Low, about a lamb and a goat that wander off from their mothers and trade places for an afternoon. Things do not go well for either of them, but Slobodkin delivers his message with eloquence and grace, and the lamb and goat solve their own problems effortlessly, with barely a whisper of a lesson. My brother, of course, was terrific, and we were all in awe of his skill. I loved this story, and eventually I found a used copy to add to my picture book collection. While I’m not typically a fan of kids doodling in books, the pencil underline here makes me smile every time I see it, “They stayed close to their mothers, and they were usually very good.”
I married into another family of readers, so we were hopeful our daughters would be readers, too. These days, I am not the only one who can’t walk past a bookstore without stepping inside. My family is still close; once a year we spend a weekend together at my brother’s beautiful house at the beach. There are a dozen grandchildren and assorted friends and significant others, and they come from as far as California and all along the east coast. Among the beach chairs and the towels and the sand pails there are books: paperbacks, hardcovers, Kindles, and iPads. And there, in a long line stretching out across the sand, we read.
Kathy Anne Cowie is proud to be a member of the Nerdy Book Club. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, and piles of books. She is a partner at c-squared design, a graphic design firm, and a business book reviewer for a John Wiley & Sons journal. Connect with her on Blah, Blah, Blah, Book Blog, Twitter (@KathyAnneCowie), or with the rest of her family on Goodreads