Learning To Read
Places: Started at Beckett Mountain, AR; Continued in Nuyaka, OK
Sometime in my third year, I became aware that printed words had meaning. Perhaps it started with the lesson cards young children in the Assemblies of God received in their Sunday School classes. The cards were not as large as an ordinary postcard, but on the front they had a picture illustrating a Bible story, along with a verse of Scripture called the memory verse. On the back an easy-reading version of the Bible story was printed.
Our home had very limited reading material: the Bible, sometimes copies of the Pentecostal Evangel (a weekly publication of the Assemblies of God), and free catalogs from Sears. My sister sometimes let me look at her schoolbooks. I especially liked her English Literature book as it had small black and white pictures of authors and far away places. But all I could do was look – the words were too hard for me.
One of our Bibles contained a few full page color pictures. One that I liked was Jesus holding a small lamb. It was on the page opposite Psalm 23. Underneath the picture was the first line of the Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” I ask my mother what the words were. Soon I had memorized them and could recognize them in other settings. I studied other pictures in the Bible and added more words that I could recognize.
Next I tried to read the Sears catalog. Not many of the Bible words were in the ads or descriptions of sale items, so I spelled new words aloud to any family member within hearing until they became weary and told me to stop. This style of learning continued over the next year until I could read simple sentences.
Sometime in my fifth year, a friend gave me a homemade book –copies of children’s Sunday School papers bound with a metal clip. These papers, published by the Methodist, not only had Bible stories, but also stories with characters such as fairies, elves, and ordinary children. That a story could have characters other than Bible heroes was a new thought to me. (My mother, a very practical woman, frowned on stories with make-believe characters, but I loved them!) I carried those papers around, trying to read them and constantly asking any available adult the words I didn’t know.
Soon I was reading anything with print on it – and often seeing words I had never heard in conversation. Usually I could derive their meaning from context, but I didn’t know how to pronounce them. I remember the first time I heard someone say “hallucinations.” In my silent reading, I had called it “hally-cutions.” When I heard it pronounced correctly I thought, “Oh, so that’s what that word sounds like!” but for years I had to stop and think before I said the word to remember which pronunciation is correct.
One of our neighbors in Nuyaka was Mrs. Taylor, the first-grade school teacher. (The school had no pre-school or kindergarten). When she discovered that I could read, she brought me a few “Dick and Jane” books that the school had discarded because of torn pages, missing backs, or crayon markings. My sister was dating at that time and any young man who came to our home had to listen to me read!
By the time I entered first grade, in the fall of 1940, I was nearly 7 years old. The Nuyaka school had a ruling that a child must be 6 years old before Sept. 1 to start school that year. My birthday is October 15 – 6 weeks too late! My mother and Mrs. Taylor both appealed but the rule stood, so I had to wait another year to go to school. By that time, I had been reading for about 2 years. I was excited to go to school and thought I could spend all day reading, but Mrs. Taylor had other ideas! Her other students sat at tables with 4 or 6 children to the table. She had me sit alone at a small table near her desk. While she taught the other students their ABC’s, the sounds of letters, and a few words on a big poster, she gave me books to read, word puzzles to do, pictures to color, or pages of addition problems to work.
I was heart broken. I thought she considered me too dumb to read with the rest of the class. Then after about 8 weeks, the other students were given their first reader — a very simple book with easy words. That day she had me stand at the back of the classroom and told the students if they didn’t know a word, raise their hand and I would come and tell them! Suddenly I understood! I could read; they couldn’t. How important I felt telling them those simple words!
In years to come, that lesson guided my teaching. Never assume a student knows why he is being treated differently than his fellows, even if the reason seems very evident. Tell him your plans and encourage him to participate in learning and teaching. I’m sure during those weeks Mrs. Taylor had me work alone, she never dreamed that I didn’t understand the reason.
And so began my love for reading and my lifelong joy in entering the alternate worlds where books take me! There I meet fictitious characters who seem very much like the people I interact with daily in what is commonly called “real life.”
Copyright July 2013 Joyce Wells Booze