the summer i met nancy drew...

When I was in grade school I was in the "slow" reading circle. I had a very difficult time sounding out words and comprehending their meaning. My grades reflected my struggle. I loved it when the teacher read aloud because I remembered all the details and could be a part of the conversation. There were no reading specialists back then and my Mom knew there was something wrong so she asked the teachers what she could do to help me with my reading comprehension. Eventually she purchased the SRA Reading Program and things began to improve.

Every summer morning I and two of my younger brothers would sit at the kitchen table and read the little stories then answer the comprehension questions. It was pure torture but necessary if I wanted to keep up in school. I was so mad that I "had" to do this special work. It made me feel even more incompetent.

As a means of keeping her sanity, my Mom signed us up for the summer reading program at the local library. Back then if you read 15 or more books you would get a certificate for one ice cream cone from Highs convenience store which was like the 7-11 of my neighborhood. I had been working hard at my SRA work so the task did not seem completely overwhelming to me. Then I met the librarian who explained the "rules". You had to read "age-appropriate books". I had just finished the third grade which meant that I could no longer count picture books, only chapter books would count. I was NOT happy!
My older brother took great delight in my hesitation as big brothers sometimes do. He would tease me telling me that I was such a baby for still reading Curious George books. I would kick him and Mom would have to intervene. Finally after about the seventh millionth kick, my mother simply looked at me and said:

"So, just prove him wrong."

Huh. I had never thought of that. That was all the motivation I needed. No boy was going to beat me, especially one of dumb brothers. (I love them now. We kind of grew into it).

So during the next visit to the library I tentatively asked for some help. The librarian smiled at me and asked what I like to read. I told her "Curious George, Toad and Frog and Mr. Small".

"You like adventure and action." she said

I shrugged my shoulders and followed her into the stacks. She pulled out one book after another discussing the storyline. There were a few that intrigued me but for the most part I was unimpressed. I passed by my older brother sitting at one of the tables and saw that he was reading something called The Hardy Boys. Well if he could read it so could I. I inquired about them and the librarian smiled once more and said those book are for boys.

"What you want is Nancy Drew."

Nancy who? I didn't have a clue but I followed her anyway. The books had nice covers but sooo many words. How was I supposed to finish one book let alone 15!

When I read with the first book The Secret of the Old Clock Tower I had to look up so many words because I was having a hard time understanding it. I remember crying in my room one afternoon and my Mom coming in to find me with tears streaming down my face and the dictionary in my lap. She sat down next to me and asked gently what the problem was. I told her I was just stupid. In her strong motherly voice she admonished me for using such language and told me I was one the brightest girls she knew. I told her she had to say that she was my mother.

She laughed and said "Have I ever lied to you?"

The very thought of my mother lying was inconceivable to me. "No" was all I said with my head hanging low, wiping away my tears with the back of my hand.

"Just think. When you get back to school how many more words you will understand compared to the other students. You'll be on the honor roll before you know it."

Yea right I thought but I didn't let it stop me. I was going to beat my brother no matter what it took.

With each book I had to look up fewer and fewer words which meant I was reading faster and understanding more. I was drawn into mystery after mystery wondering if Nancy was going to be able to solve it before something dastardly would happen to her in the little town of River Heights. She had fabulous friends starting with Helen Corning and then cousins Bess Marvin and George Fayne. Her handsome boyfriend Ned Nickerson was always there in the nick of time. So much more happened in her hometown compared to where I lived!

That summer I read ALL 35 Nancy Drew books and then went on to read all 58 Hardy Boys books just to let my brother know there wasn't anything he did that I couldn't do better. We laugh about it now but it started a lifelong love affair with the genre for both of us.

And yes, I beat my older brother by some 20 books. It was a beautiful day when I walked into Highs and ordered my double scoop mint chocolate chip ice cream cone. Mom paid for the extra scoop because I had not given up even though at times I wanted to burn the books because I was so frustrated.

Later that year, I moved on to , Anne of Green Gables, Little Woman and the infamous Sweet Valley High series which I consider to be the first romance novel I ever read. I have not stopped reading since. I still have to look things up occasionally but now the very act brings a smile to my face as I think of how it all began.

When did you fall in love with reading? What was your favorite book growing up?

Leave a comment and let's celebrate the joy of reading!