When I was a girl, books were my constant companion. I spent a great deal of my childhood and teenage years immersed in them and in most cases, found them to be better companions than kids my age. They sure kept me out of trouble.
My bedroom was at the end of a hallway, directly across from Mama and Daddy’s room, and guess what else was at the end of that hallway? The bookcase. Talk about prime positioning! Inside that bookcase lived an entire set of encyclopedias, complete with a set of books containing stories from classic literature, great speeches, and poetry. By the time I had grown up, many of those books were dog eared, had notes penciled in, and the binding had started coming apart in places from overuse by my hands. I’d grab one and take it into my room, curling up in bed or sometimes setting up camp in the floor as I leaned against a wall to read. That bookcase was like my own personal treasure and I couldn’t have hoped for a more glorious spread.
I learned about the world, geography, other cultures, and animals I’d never see in my lifetime. I grew close to Lincoln as I read the struggle in his words of the Gettysburg Address. Thomas Moore warned me of an emptiness which awaited me at unexpected moments in my life.
Poets and great writers from the ages, through their wonderful works advised, cautioned, and gave me great hope for a deeper meaning beyond driving in circles around the local mall parking lot on Friday night.
There was even a Holy Bible in there, King James version. At the onset it seemed like a foreign language, but once I spent time with it and got to know it, I began to understand. I think reading King James and gathering the ability to make sense of it as a child does something to you. It helps you to be more patient with people and writings that don’t make sense at first.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, That bookcase was a dear friend to me.
I so desperately wanted my Katy to have that. Brady, my oldest, is something of a reader, if not as voracious as I was at his age, but he does pick up a thick book from time to time and settle down with it over the course of some days until he’s finished. He does understand the joy inside those pages.
Katy, well she’s always been too lively to want to sit overly long – and that worried me. She is an excellent reader and I especially enjoy when she reads out loud to me because she’s learned to read with inflection and emotion, which always makes such a difference over droning that so many do these days. I love hearing folks read in an animated fashion and it warms my heart to see Katy step in and bring the characters to life with her voice.
But, reading just isn’t something she has ever been prone to do unless prompted. She’s never really read for the joy of it. My thinking from watching and teaching her is that she doesn’t yet understand what all books have to offer.
Yesterday, we were working on our history. The program we use is called The Story of Our World. Since we had taken a break for the holidays, I decided to start out by re-reading the history book to the point we were at. It is arranged like a story so this makes more sense than if you are thinking about a traditional text history book. It will take us a few days of straight reading to get to where we left off but with this book, it’s like watching your favorite movie over again.
Katy and I curled up on the couch and settled in. “Ooh! I remember that!” She’d say from time to time. Sometimes she’d stop me and tell me what was going to happen next or quiz me in fun to see if I remembered as much as she did.
I’m telling y’all, that book is wonderful. Before this, I had never encountered a history textbook that didn’t read like dry facts on a timeline. Now, I feel like I finally know what a history book is supposed to be.
Over the Christmas break, I ordered a history encyclopedia that was recommended by the author of our textbook. At the beginning of each chapter in the teacher’s guide, they reference certain pages in the encyclopedia to go to for additional insight with photos, maps, interesting facts, day in the life illustrations, etc.
Katy didn’t know about this book yet but I admit I did buy it in the hope that a part of my childhood would awaken in her. After we had read a few chapters, I stopped and said “Now, let me show you a some things about what we just read…” and
I pulled out that encyclopedia.
I flipped to the first recommended page and as I did Katy sat up a little straighter “Where did that book come from?” she asked. I told her I had ordered it over Christmas and proceeded to show her very colorful illustrated map of Egypt that helped the flooding of the Nile’s banks make sense to us. The land around the rivers was demonstrated by lush green and it grew gradually less so the further out you got. The Delta, hemmed in by water on all sides, which caused it to be marsh land also stood out to us. And then there was Upper Egypt in the south and Lower Egypt in the north, an irony brought about by the thinking of the time that the world was flat in conjunction with the rivers flowing to the north. We read a few snippets under photos to learn about different aspects of Egyptian life and then I flipped through the pages to find something else.
“WHOA!” Katy’s hand shot out, stopping my flipping. “GO back! I saw something!”.
That was the beginning of an hour long mass reading session through our new encyclopedia. We read about the Statue of Liberty and answered Katy’s questions about what it was made of, how it got here, how tall it is, why it was given to us, what Lady Liberty is holding and what is engraved on the front of her tablet. We read about famine in Africa, life in a Medieval castle, Martin Luther King, the KKK, and segregation. We read about Kings and Queens of England, the Great Wall of China, and the Cold War. At one point, as she sat reading beneath a photo of the Berlin Wall, I pulled up a video on my phone and we watched President Reagan give his famous “Tear Down This Wall” speech. She was alive with interest in this book and as soon as we finished one section she’d flip to another or go to the index to see if something was listed she had a question about.
Towards the end of our marathon encyclopedia discovery she said “Is Harriet Tubman in there?” and took the book from me, flipping frantically to the index. Katy spent the next four pages reading all about the Civil War, pausing only long enough to ask me what “Confederate” meant.
“I don’t know, let me look it up.” I replied.
She laughed. “Mama, have you noticed you do that? Every time I ask a question if you don’t know the answer you go look it up right then.”
“Well, that’s what you’re supposed to do. The best time to learn something is when you want to know it. I’ve heard the word ‘confederate’ my whole life so I’ve never thought about if it had a meaning to it.”
It turns out it does. Confederate means union. So half of the country broke away from the other half and wanted to name themselves something to differentiate themselves from The United States of America so they named themselves the Confederate States of America, which means the United States of America. Amid the seriousness and loss of the civil war, Katy and I found a note of humor in that detail which most folks will probably never even know about.
She closed the book. “Where are we going to keep this book?” I stood as she carried it and showed her a special place in the book case. She reverently placed it there.
With a grin, I added, “You know, I think this same company has an animal encyclopedia just like this one.”
“OH! We have to get that one! Can we?”
I touched my phone screen a few times and replied “It will be here Thursday.”
Her face lit up with excitement.
My child, my child.