As a child, I spent a great deal of time at my grandparents' house. I was one of ten grandchildren, and we were all welcomed to make ourselves at home there, and we did. My cousin Pam and I loved to explore the entire house, yard, and barn. Some of my happiest childhood memories took place there.
With Pam being my older cousin, she was somewhat of a role model for me, and I usually wanted to do the things she was doing. On one particular occasion, Pam had arrived there at our grandparents' home before me, and she had done a little exploring on her own. She had been down in the basement digging through some boxes in the storage area, where she had come upon some of Grandma's old books. She was proud to show me old worn copies of Bambi and Bambi's Children. But that wasn't all, she shared with excitement in her voice. Grandma had told her she could keep them, to have for her own! I am sure Pam saw the look of envy developing on my face, because she quickly followed by telling me that she was sure I could pick one too. We charged down to the boxes and dug around until I picked a somewhat tattered copy of Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Soon after, we bounded upstairs to see if Grandma would let me keep one too.
I should share a few bits of information at this point. Grandma loved to read and almost always kept a book that she was reading in the living room. Pam loved to read, and often told me about the books she was reading. I also loved books, but at this point I was very young. I honestly don't remember how old I was, but I am going to guess around five. I had lots of books, but they were mostly picture books. My mom read to me most nights before bed, even though she wasn't a reader herself. I loved to look through and "read" my books, but I wasn't really a reader at that point, unless it was a very simple book. The book I had chosen not only had no pictures, but it didn't even have a cute cover like some copies of Heidi do now. This one was old, frayed, and brown.
From the moment the adults in the room saw the book I had chosen, I was encouraged to find another one. Looking back, my mom was probably hoping I'd go back and choose a shorter one! I remember asking Grandma if she had liked the book. Well, yes, she said, she had. So I asked her what it was about. I don't think I really even listened very well to her answer, but they laughed when I told them that I was very interested in both Heidi and goats! So, just like Pam, I had one of Grandma's books.
This is the point where I really wish the story was different. I wish I could say that my mom read from that book every night until we finished it, but that was not the case. I wish I could say that I had Grandma read it to me every time I visited, but that didn't happen either. I am going to be truthful when I say that I don't think I really cared much at that point about Heidi's story or reading that book. Now don't get me wrong, I WANTED that book! I wanted to own one of Grandma's books, and I loved showing it to everyone and telling people that she gave it to me. I wanted to be the same type of reader that she was, and to be able to read the same books she did. I even wanted to be like Pam, who was enjoying the books that she got from our grandma. Even though I would have never admitted it to anyone, I really wasn't ready for that book right then, nor was I really even that excited to read it. What was exciting to me was skipping around the house with it that day, showing it off to the other cousins, aunts, uncles, and anyone else I saw. I was proud to take it home and keep it on my book shelf and show friends, but it was a long time before I ever actually read that book.
I think of this experience of my own sometimes as teachers, librarians, and parents debate about book levels, good fit books, and what is appropriate for kids. The right book for a kid can be many things, but not always the things that we may be considering. I don't think you could find an educator who would have agreed that Heidi was the right book for me at that time, and in a lot of ways they would have been right, but I don't think there was ever another book I was so excited to receive or one that made me want to become a reader so much.
My grandma, Norma Keen Edmison, passed away on Friday, July 15, 2016, but she will always hold a special place in my heart. Years after she shared her book Heidi, she loaned some of her other books to me, and I shared some of mine with her. I would often search to find a book to give her for her birthday or Christmas. At one point, her failing eyesight made reading difficult, and she began reading on a Nook so that she could enlarge the print. I don't think a birthday or Christmas went by that we didn't get her a gift card to buy books. I am grateful for many experiences with her, but our shared love of books is one I celebrate today.