On reading by Poppy Nwosu
Growing up in an isolated cane-farming community in central North Queensland, reading was a very important part of my childhood. We lived an hour drive away from our nearest town, so had to travel that far to buy groceries or visit a shopping centre. I spent a lot of time sitting in the car and so stories became precious to me from an early age, as a way to pass the time.
The valley I lived in had one tiny library and in town there were two larger ones. My family visited them all the time. We would spend hours inside the cool air-conditioning to escape the summer humidity, and every time I would come home with a massive armful of books, many of which I had already read multiple times over.
It is strange to remember back to how important books were to my daily life as a kid, because in truth, I didn’t begin life as a reader. In fact, I struggled immensely with learning to read, to the point that I believe my parents were becoming a little worried. I was growing older and yet I still showed no interest whatsoever in books.
Until one day my mum bought me a joke book for kids. It was filled with the silliest, most ridiculous puns, and yet I adored it. Suddenly I wanted to read. I found motivation to read.
That joke book led to a chapter book about pirates, which in turn led to comic books about Belgian spies (Tintin) and undefeatable ancient Gauls (Asterix and Obelix). By then, I was utterly hooked. I was in love with stories, with adventure and emotion and intrigue. With funny dialogue and fascinating intricate plots.
Yet I often wonder what would have happened if my mum hadn’t bought that little joke book. Perhaps I never would have discovered the utter joy contained within stories, perhaps today I wouldn’t call myself a reader. Perhaps then, I never would have become a writer.
Although that joke book had such a deep impact on my life, to be honest I don’t really remember it. I remember laughing, and I remember reading the jokes aloud to my parents and making them laugh too. Yet the discovery of the joy contained within reading eventually led me to an author that I do remember vividly, the author whose books would leave the biggest impression on my childhood and early teenage years — K.A. Applegate, author of the Animorphs and Everworld series.
If you don’t know it, Animorphs was a long running monthly book series about a group of teenagers who were given the power to turn into animals by an alien. They had to use that power to fight back against a silent invasion of earth, which no one else knew was happening.
I imagine that back then a lot of people would have seen me reading those books and thought they were just some silly kid thing, about space and aliens and teenagers. They might have thought that reading space fiction was a waste of time for a young girl, and that I should have been reading something more educational.
Yet they wouldn’t have known that those ‘space books’ were opening up my mind to deep, dark and challenging ideas I’d never come across before. Through those entertaining and thrilling fiction books, I learned about empathy and war, I was introduced to post-traumatic stress, and taught about responsibility, love, hope, commitment and dedication. And most importantly of all, I was learning about the idea of fighting for something greater than yourself. Of being selfless. Of caring for others.
I learned that sometimes, choosing between right and wrong is hard. Sometimes, there are no easy answers.
And I learned all that from an adventure series about spaceships and slug aliens and girls who could turn into wolves.
I know even today some people might think a space story is silly, or that only certain types of books have merit, but I don’t believe that to be true.
I believe that every story has power.
And every book is precious.
After all, even a child’s jokebook has the power to sway an entire life. To turn a kid into a comedian, into a reader and then eventually, finally, into a writer.
Poppy Nwosu grew up in central North Queensland, Australia, and after studying music, moved temporarily to Ireland. Making Friends with Alice Dyson, her debut novel, was short-listed for the Readings Young Adult Book Prize, which recognizes exciting emerging voices in Australian young adult literature. She lives in Australia with her husband.