The Most Rewarding Gift by Jodi-Beth Moreno

How many gifts can you keep forever?  Do you have a favorite gift that you plan on keeping with you no matter where life takes you? I keep with me one of the best gifts I have ever received, the gift of reading.

I’ve always known how to read. It has been part of my life forever. I don’t recall learning how to read or a time when books were not my constant companion.  It turns out that thinking books have always been a major part of who I am makes perfect sense because it really has been. My mother taught me how to read when I was three years old. No wonder! I don’t even have a memory earlier than four.

What I do remember is that books have always provided me with answers, with companionship, with escape. Books have given me exactly what I needed in the moment that I needed it. When my parents divorced and my mother, sister, brother and I moved to an unknown land buried deep in South Texas, I turned to books. I don’t remember many titles, except for the one that came with me from home—sorry, Brooklyn public library.  Pig Pig Grows Up would be the little piece of my former life that was my constant companion for days, weeks, maybe even months on end. I read it over and over again; Pig Pig was my very best friend for a season.

Fast forward a few years to when I discovered The Baby-sitter’s Club and all things Judy Blume. We had moved again, and I needed a new set of friends. So, while I waited for real relationships to form, I hung out with Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, and Mary-Anne. Eventually, Jessie would join the crew and boy was I excited to meet her because she is the first African-American character I’d ever met who wasn’t enslaved or fighting some civil rights battle. She was like me—just a girl with friends who loved to dance. But my favorite book during this time in my reading life was Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume. This book was the first book that opened my eyes to some of my emotions and struggles related to my parent’s divorce. What a relief to know that Stephanie was having those same feelings.  I still have my original copy dog-eared and battered copy of this life-changing title in my home library.  Every few years, I pick it up and read through it for old-time’s sake.

Coming into adulthood my reading life would shift once again and continue to do so until this very day. I relied on the gift of reading to get me through some of the biggest crises in my life. The Sweep Series by Cate Tiernan kept me company as I sat at my mother’s hospital bedside for five weeks praying for her to wake up. It was light-hearted and magical, which is just what I needed. During another personal crisis, I was gifted a copy of The Glass Castle which helped me remember that people can overcome so many obstacles and go on to success. I needed that reminder and am forever grateful to my friend who brought me Jeannette’s story. No matter how devastating the situation, I was always able to count on a good book to help me through.

So many of my most memorable moments, good and bad, can be defined by the books in my life. I carry with me experiences of so many characters from so many different backgrounds, who live in fascinating worlds that I could never imaging. Their experiences have become my experiences. My life is what it is because their stories exist. Their stories are a piece of me and will continue to influence my understanding and interaction with this world until I take my last breath.

I wish for this gift to be given to all children and can’t help but think I am so lucky to be a part of that work daily.

Jodi-Beth Moreno has been an English Language Arts and Reading teacher for 12 years in districts across the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas.  She currently is an ELAR Specialist servicing secondary educators throughout the area. She’s a Harry Potter fan, a card-carrying member of the Backstreet Army, an avid reader, and a fan of all passionate educators and authors. You can connect with her on Twitter: @JodiBethMoreno where she is always willing to talk books.