My Reading Life by Toni Yuly
I did not grow up a big reader. My family was really into sports and we watched a lot of TV, especially cartoons, (I was born in 1954.) I don’t remember hearing a good night story before bed or enjoying reading, except for comic books, as a young child. I loved comic books.
I remember there was a small bookshelf in our home where a few interesting books lived. The World Book Encyclopedia, (No Internet!) and a set of old, exotic fairy tales were my favorites.
I loved looking through those heavy books and always felt they had some kind of mysterious power, especially the fairy tales.
Two special book memories stand out from my childhood.
My 4th grade class was at the school library and as usual I wasn’t very interested in books. Instead I was fascinated by the check-out process and the date due stamp. I remember the librarian coming over and gently asking if I had any books that I wanted to check out, and I didn’t, so she let me check books out for other kids for a while and then she took me to the shelves and pulled down a copy of Charlotte’s Web. LOVE!!!
Another great book memory was from the fifth grade.
Every day, my teacher would read to us for 30 minutes. I loved that time and sat slumped at my desk glued to her words, totally transported into the book she was reading. I cried at the sad parts and laughed at the funny parts. I was bummed when for some reason she missed a reading or had to cut her reading short and I was thrilled at the start of a new book. I wasn’t a good student, I had trouble focusing and I had never heard a book read out loud before.
Because of that experience I read to my own son from birth through high school and I now volunteer a couple of hours a week reading books to a Kindergarten class. I love to introduce kids to a wide variety of books hoping that one (or more) of the books will touch each kid.
I am grateful to that librarian for showing me that a book can be a magical, beautiful, wonderful life changing experience. And I am grateful to that teacher who read out loud to us putting a “book spell” on me for 30 minutes a day.
Diaries were popular when I was little and I loved writing in them. After the diaries, I got journals. Journals became a huge outlet for me in middle school and even more so in high school. I wrote about my feelings, my impressions, and things I didn’t want to forget. I wrote poetry and doodled. My teen years were pretty traumatic and writing helped. Writing and being in nature were my family.
I wasn’t a big reader as a teenager but I did have a small collection of books that I loved. I don’t think being a huge reader is the point. I think realizing that books are wonderful is the point. I am not a huge reader to this day, but I do love books. Today, my workspace has a wall full of books and I often have piles of books around me. I think just having the physical books nearby helps me… maybe books do contain a mysterious power!
After high school I went on to study art in college where I worked in the art history library. After graduating, I worked as a librarian for over 30 years. A lot of those 30 years was before the Internet existed. I mostly helped people find answers to things and I used books. I love all kinds of books, reference books as well as picture books. I love helping people and also I love making things. I especially love making pictures and writing stories.
I am a late bloomer. I didn’t have a supportive or nurturing family, but I did have a thoughtful librarian and caring teacher when I was a child who helped me see the beauty of books and stories and I am forever grateful to them. I try to pass it on and be like them and help connect kids with books and see how wonderful and amazing a book can be.
I am honored and grateful to be a maker of books myself.
Toni Yuly is the creator of the picture books Thank You, Bees; The Jelly Bean Tree; Cat Nap; Night Owl; and Early Bird. After many years as a librarian, she now dedicates herself to designing, painting, and writing all day. She lives in Bremerton, Washington.