On our first day of summer vacation, I took the girls to the public library in our new town to borrow some books and to sign up for the Summer Reading Program. The library is just beautiful. The children’s section is settled in the back of the library. There are computers, tiny reading tables, blocks, knee-high carts filled with board books, a picturesque little room for story time, and countless rows of picture books. An enormous tree stands in the middle of the children’s section and from its branches hang stuffed animal monkeys, koala bears, and birds. A sign asks the children to please not climb the tree, but they are free to nestle into its trunk and enjoy a book.
With the summer reading sheets tucked in my purse, we carried our bag full of picture books to the front desk to check them out for a few weeks. We had to pass through the adolescent section, and a book caught four-year-old Maddie’s eye. “Mommy! Mommy! Can I please get this book?” Maddie asked as she stood on her tippy toes grabbing a chapter book. It was the classic edition of the Wizard of Oz. The original, written by L. Frank Baum. It was thick. I fanned the pages. Twenty-two chapters.
Now, I am a teacher and a literacy coach. I know that we don’t limit kids’ book choices. I know that there is more to readability than just a level. There is motivation and background knowledge and all that jazz. I know that a child’s listening comprehension usually far outweighs their oral reading comprehension. I know that telling a kid no, you can’t read that could crush their little reader spirit and turn them off reading forever. So, I was as surprised as you when I said…
“No, Maddie, that book is too hard for you. That book is for older kids.” I looked down and saw the saddest look of disappointment on her little face. I reconsidered. “Ok, Maddie, ok. You can get that book, too.”
Well, Maddie hugged that book all the way to the front desk. She carried it on her lap the whole ride home, thumbing through the pages, looking at the black and white illustrations. The minute we got home, she plopped next to me on the couch, and I started reading.
Night after night, her and I have cuddled in her bed and read The Wizard of Oz. She asks questions, she laughs, she leans in a little closer to me when the Wicked Witch appears. She hasn’t missed a word. A few evenings ago, we finished the book. With Dorothy safely back in Aunt Em’s arms, I closed the book. Maddie reached over and hugged me, as though she knew we had shared something special together. “Mommy, can I keep this book?” she asked. The next evening when it was time to choose our bedtime stories, guess which book Maddie chose? Yep, back to chapter one and the cyclone (which Maddie will tell you is a terrible storm that can whoosh your house away).
I don’t know what it was that caught Maddie’s eye that day in the library, and I will never understand why I told her no.
What I do know is that Maddie just found her book. You know, that book. That book we remember reading as a child. That book that makes our heart skip a beat when we come across it in our adult life. That book that we always associate with love. That book that holds not only a story, but memories of our childhood. That book that turned us into a forever reader. This is Maddie’s book.