A Librarian's Daughter

A short essay I penned, acknowledging how my mother's interest in literacy programs stems from my experience learning to read as a child:

Reading has never been easy for me. The way the genetic cards were dealt in my family, I seemed to get the short end of the stick. My older brother was gifted, both by academic and personal standards, in his ability to read as a child. He started early and progressed quickly. In school, he was placed into a gifted program for students who would be underserved by their grade's traditional Language Arts curriculum. I watched him progress with admiration and excitement; I was two years younger than him, and I waited for my turn to excel at reading. 

Unfortunately, the magic of that particular talent was not waiting for me. Reading was a struggle; I was slow to pick it up, and slow at it once I'd learned. It felt like a failing. Mine was a family of bookworms, and I was often frustrated in not being able to take the same pleasure in reading that my parents and my brother did. Finishing books felt, at times, liking winning a wrestling match against a particularly stubborn opponent. I'd reach the last page a little relieved--and often a little surprised--that I'd outlasted its efforts to exhaust me. It is a feeling that has never quite left me, no matter how many books I've read in my life. 

This formula--the talented older brother, the family premium on literacy, the personal frustration of finding reading to be a drudgery--seems like it would be counterintuitive to producing a fiction writer. Except for one thing: my parents read to me. Constantly. Particularly my mother. Every night of my childhood, with few exceptions that I can even recall, my mother would sit in the hallway between my brother’s bedroom and mine and read to us. Sometimes for hours, sometimes long past the time when we should have been asleep, if a particular book was fascinating enough. Being read to gave us imagination. It gave us incredible vocabularies. It helped me excel in English classes, despite being a slow and often reluctant reader. And it turned me into a writer.

When I was nine, my mother enrolled in graduate school and earned her Master's in Library Sciences, a move which shocked absolutely no one. She now works in the Youth Services department of a public library in Illinois, recommending many of the book she read to us a children to her patrons. Encouraging parents to read to their children. Finding the perfect book for the teenager who's not quite sure if she likes to read. My mother is passionate about childhood literacy, about programs like "1,000 Books before Kindergarten," about the ways parents can approach teaching their children to love books. And when a parent asks her what to do about a child who is a slow reader and frustrated to be so, how to foster a love of reading in a kid who can't seem to get the hang of it, sometimes she tells them about me. A kid who had 1,000 books before Kindergarten, and probably a thousand more before high school. A kid who will always turn to books for inspiration and comfort and the sheer pleasure of reading. A kid who grew up to wrestle with the writing of books, as well as the reading of them. I have no doubt that I am an author today because I started out as a librarian's daughter.