Are You There God? It's Me, Danielle.

The other day while at my parents’ house, my Dad brought out some extra-large boxes full of books from my younger years.  I’ve always been an avid reader, but when I went off to college to share a teeny tiny dorm room, my book collection had to stay behind to make room for a mini-fridge.  In hindsight, my freshman fifteen probably would have appreciated the books rather than a place to keep beer cold but hey, what can ya do? Luckily my parents aren’t insane and instead of giving my half-ton of young adult literature to the Salvation Army, they boxed them up for safe keeping.

So on that day just last month, when the boxes came out of the garage clearly labeled “D’s Books,” my heart did a hop-skip-jump in my chest as I remembered all of the treasures that lay inside the cardboard containers.  For me, reading was a huge part of everything from as far back as I can remember. Reading Rainbow, summer reading programs, Book It, and I even recall wanting to invite the head librarian, Doris, to my 8th birthday party. I never thought I was too cool to read and actually, I thought you were so not cool if you didn’t read. I devoured books as quickly as I could, often finding myself in the middle of three or four at a time, and the sight of me teeter-tottering out of the library, books stacked high in my arms as my Mom helped lead me over to the car, was not uncommon.  My young-adult literature obsession started with books like A Wrinkle in Time (still love it), worked through the Babysitter’s Club (I was totally a non-diabetic Stacey), and took hold in all things Judy Blume (my hero).

Judy really did it for me, and I found myself reading and re-reading her books every few months.  I loved Deenie (hated Mrs. Fenner), couldn’t get enough of Tiger Eyes, cried right along as Linda aka “Blubber” was ostracized, and I’m sure you can tell by the title of this article what my favorite J.B. book is.  There I was, a slightly awkward preteen, living in a small, rural New Jersey town and being quite naive to the world and through those pages I was learning all about first kisses and padding your bra, the weird classmate who might actually be cool and menstruation belts. Ah, the menstruation belts. Even now the chapters involving the belts and pads in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret are still really strange. Looking back I remember being totally confused. I mean, I guess those people way back then had to use archaic contraptions like that…but now, holy shit. And “Teenage Softies”? Don’t even get me started.

But anyway, moving away from period talk and back to literature… later on when I was a high school English teacher I tried to explain the wonder of libraries and Judy Blume to my students during a book club unit.

Me: “I used to rush into the library straight to the YA section, snatching up any books that looked interesting. I judged by cover, by the back, by the first page and then I would find myself a corner and read the afternoon away. Judy Blume books were my favorite – she so got what it’s like to be a teenager. I can seriously still think back and remember reading some of her books for the first time. It was magical.”

Student: “Mrs. Hampton, first of all, you’re so funny (quick note: when students call you funny they mean really, really weird) but secondly, but do you know if you can get her books on my Kindle? The library is so freaking annoying and it smells bad.”

Me: “What smells bad? The library?! And don’t say ‘freaking’.”

Student: “Yes. The library. Books. They smell old and weird. I would rather just download to my Kindle and not even go there.”

Another student: “Seriously. Ugh, I hate the library, books do smell. Plus I feel like there’s no point to books now that they make movies into everything, you know? Kind of a waste of time.” (Most of the class nodded in agreement.)

And then… my heart broke into a million pieces. Seriously? My students didn’t like the library? I feel like who I am today, is because of a few things, two of them being the library and Judy Blume.  Not that everyone has to love what I love, but to not even like the library a little? Shame of shames.

I think a lot about these kinds of things now that I’m a Mom. How can I convey a love of reading to our son Henry?  In this world of instant gratification- 60-second downloaded books, interactive Facebook pages, and the 140-character share- everything is fast, fast, fast. Sitting down to read a 300-page book? No time, man, no time.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a e-reader fan and I’m borderline obsessed with my Kindle. But I DO know the beauty and wonder of books, the excitement of the “new literature” section in the library, and the quiet joy felt passing time turning pages in a comfortable chair.  Kids should have a favorite author, or  a favorite book. They should at least be exposed to these things so that someday, years later, they don’t make up the 75% of a sophomore English class agreeing that books are indeed a waste of time.

So, it is my goal to make sure that Henry grows up knowing all about the wonder of the library (and maybe even Judy Blume, too).  It’s my mission to make sure he’s never too cool for reading. If he is in a class of book-haters, perhaps he can be the Guy Montag in the room, the one to stand up and say, “No no no, you’ve got it all wrong”. It’s my goal to expose him to libraries and story time, to make-believe and creativity via the written word. And later, if he doesn’t like it, fine. But at least I tried. And if that trying includes me making LeVar Burton a fixture in our home and downloading every Reading Rainbow episode in existence or resurrecting a Book It of my very own, paying him in personal pan pizzas to read chapter books, so be it!  This boy will read.

Did you have any favorite books growing up, books you couldn’t get enough of? I’d love to hear your picks in the comments below!  To my list I’ll add:

  • The Sleepover Friends series (anyone read these? I’ve yet to find a fellow S.F. fan)
  • The Babysitter’s Club
  • Sweet Valley Twins and Friends – and later Sweet Valley High
  • R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and the Fear Street books

…and I could go on, but I’ll save some for you! Do tell.

p.s. I also suggest you check out Judy’s website. I was pleasantly surprised to find her gracefully rowing a kayak on the first page. Love you Judy!

image via flickr.com

Danielle Hampton is a high school English teacher turned stay-at-home Mom, living in Arizona. She blogs daily at Sometimes Sweet and tweets too much via @danihampton. Come say hello!

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