I have always had difficulty reading by Steve Light
I always had difficulty reading. I would gravitate to wordless books. As a visual thinker the pictures always told more of the story for me. I was in love with Mercer Mayer’s “Frog goes to dinner” series of books and would spend hours studying the pictures and trying to draw them. The expressiveness of the characters and the feelings I felt from those pictures still are burned into my brain. I also loved Richard Scarry’s “The Best Word Book Ever” cause I could just pick out one or two words to read but didn’t have to, the pictures told me everything.
Then one day when I was about 5 or 6, I was lucky enough to have the World Book Encyclopedia put into my room. That set of encyclopedias came with a set of books called Childcraft. The Childcraft books were a world I escaped into every night as I lay in bed. There were nursery rhymes with gorgeous illustrations that I swooned over. There was one volume that showed children how to make things with step by step illustrations! I loved making things and had a little work bench in the basement, so I would try to make them. What I loved is that I could figure most of it out from looking at the illustrations and did not have to read the text!
Then I discovered Peanuts cartoons and Snoopy. Here were stories mostly told in pictures. I got a big book of Peanuts cartoons and carried it everywhere one summer. That is all I would do while my family went to the beach, I would sit and read Snoopy and draw. I was so attached to this book and carrying it around that I would wake in the middle of the night yelling “BOOK, BOOK!” and not go back to sleep till I had it in my hands.
In middle school, I was fortunate enough to take a short stories class where every class the teacher would read us a story. The teacher reading to US! This was a dream where I could sit at school, listen to stories, and let my head fill with pictures. I wish I could remember the teacher’s name cause they gave me a love of stories. I loved listening to stories even though I am not an auditory learner. My dad would make up stories when we would go on car trips and I loved them. My sister Micki was the reader. She would devour books. I always wanted to know the stories inside the wonderful books my big sister was reading. So I would beg her to tell me. She would eventually give in and give me a short synopsis of the book she was reading. Of course she had an appetite for scary stories like “Flowers in the Attic” and Stephen King’s “Skeleton Crew” so I would have nightmares, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to know as many different kinds of stories as I could.
Another event in middle school that shaped me as a reader was typing class. Typing class was in an annex room above the gym. This room was used for many things, so there were lots of shelves with odd things decorating this room. As I had no interest in learning to type, I sat in the back of the room next to an old book shelf. On that shelf happened to be a copy of Shel Silverstein’s “Where The Sidewalk Ends” This book was like a balm on my weary middle school mind! The words sung! The topics had a darkness to them I had never encountered before. And the line drawings! THIS is how I wanted MY line to dance across the paper, making all the crazy thoughts in my head appear on the page. Needless to say, I never learned to type, but I read every page of that wonderful book. I would set it on my lap and type gibberish as I read! I don’t remember the teacher EVER checking my work, for if she did, she would see it was just random letters typed on the page as I read about children being put in big sacks and poets writing poems from inside lions.
One day while being chased by bullies I ran into the library. The library had long been my safe haven. I hid down a row of stacks and sat on the floor. Then a book caught my attention. “R is For Rocket” by Ray Bradbury. This title made me think of alphabet books and Richard Scarry word books. Maybe I could read this. I pulled it from the shelf to see a gorgeous cover illustration. I started to read. I read the whole first chapter. It was a complete story! Was this like the short stories my teacher had read? I was too scared to take books out of the library. I was afraid something terrible would happen to these treasures if I took them into my crazy home. I would return each day and read a chapter. Each chapter was its own story but also started to quilt together as a bigger story! To this day Ray Bradbury is my favorite author. I have done countless illustrations of his work just for myself, his words create such pictures in my mind and with such few select words.
I think about the strange fact that I create books and feel so blessed. I have always loved books, different books, books that made sense to me. I think about how much time I spend picking just the right words to go with the picture. How most of the times the pictures come first. I hope there is some kid out there, sneaking away to escape into one of my books. I hope they find peace there.
Steve Light is the author-illustrator of many books, including Have You Seen My Dragon?, Have You Seen My Monster?, Lucky Lazlo, Swap!, Have You Seen My Lunch Box?, and Black Bird Yellow Sun. He lives with his family in New York City.