“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”
We’ve all experienced it: that rush of giddy joy, that hum of adrenaline zipping through our bloodstream, that feeling of being completely and unequivocally immersed in a relationship that sweeps us off our feet and changes our lives for the better. It’s a wonderful moment, one that warms the heart and makes reality twinkle with magic.
No, I’m not talking about a first kiss. Or a first “I love you.” Or the swell of all-encompassing happiness that must wrap around you when you realize that those firsts are only the beginning of so much more to come. No, this first love has nothing to do with butterflies, eternity, or fairytales come to life. It just has to do with fairytales. Or picture books. Or novels. Because this first love is the kind that comes from opening the pages of a book and getting lost in its pages.
So many of us have such special memories of the first time we were entranced by a story, the first time we realized that words can create a spark that lights a fire deep inside. I can so clearly remember storytime with my family as a child – Dad bringing up a snack (Ritz Bits with cheese triangles were my favorite!) and Mom reading a book that I chose from the shelf. When my sister was born, we expanded it to include two books, so we could each pick one. It’s been somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty years since we last did that, but the memories are still so vivid that it’s like it happened only yesterday. I love that – adore it – and truly cannot wait to start the same tradition with my own children one day.
And when those future children are old enough to read on their own? I hope they find as much joy and invigoration in those first books as I did with the first ones I fell in love with – the BOXCAR CHILDREN series. For me, that was when I learned what reading is all about: being swept into this world a writer has created, traveling along with the characters as their journeys unfold. It’s not witnessing a scene or listening in on a conversation. It’s seeing the words play out in front of you, feeling like you’re right there in the action. It’s being so involved in the story that you can’t imagine stopping for anything. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden did that for me. I adored reading about their adventures, trying to solve their mysteries, and learning about the bond these four siblings shared. They drew me in, they made me believe, and yes, they even made my six-year-old self pretend I was part of the family, searching for clues and piecing them together right along with the others. Over the next few years, I’d read dozens of books in the series. They never got old. Each was a new adventure just waiting for me to dive in and fall in love.
There have been other series that did the same – Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins/High were among my favorites growing up – and, now, amazing books and authors whose words instantly transport me into the tale they tell. I’ve mentioned Emily Giffin and Allison Winn Scotch before, and there are others, too, who make me fall for their characters time and again. Perhaps Dr. Seuss says it best:
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
This first love may not have put a diamond ring on my finger, but it promised me a different kind of forever – one filled with imagination, wonder, and a special kind of magic. And, to me, that makes it worthy of a place in the heart.
How about you? What was the first book you fell in love with as a child? What’s your favorite one today?