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We Read to Know We Are Not Alone.

This month is National Reading Month, where we celebrate Read Across America week, and cheer on literacy for kids. It's one of the reasons we purposefully have kicked off our season with Fairytale Farms. Some of the first stories we hear as children are those surrounded by the magic and mystery of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. I was genuinely curious to ask our cast what books felt formative to their own childhoods; I was surprised! There were so many great books listed, discussed over, and shared among us. Many of the same books that also felt formative to my own identity.


As a child, books were a getaway to faraway lands, magical places, and beloved characters. As an adult, I still find that children's literature is my favorite genre to read. A good children's book appeals to all ages, and it doesn't pander to the child's age. It approaches real-world problems in an accessible way. It makes them feel seen and heard. Something I had a hard time discovering in my real life growing up, and still encounter as an adult.


If I had to choose the book that was formative to my own childhood, it would be the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary. There was something very safe about those books that made me want to live inside the pages of Klickitat Street. I also strongly identified with Ramona Quimby. I was not quiet; I was loud and liked questions. As Cleary wrote,"(Ramona) was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next."


I have found time and time again, even among our cast, books were (and are) an escape. Emily, who plays Mother Goose in our Glass Slipper cast of Fairytale Farms, wrote a very touching anecdote about books and escapism. I wanted to share it with you.


 
"It was early July. A week before my 7th birthday. I was out for an evening bike ride with my family, when a drunk driver nearly mowed all of us down. I was the last in the group, so he only hit me."


"I had a crushed leg and hand on my right side, where I’d taken the impact. I spent the rest of the summer in itchy, hot, plaster casts, sitting in a wheelchair or on the couch, bitterly missing the swimming pool and playing outside with my friends.

Fortunately, earlier that year I had become a pretty proficient reader. There was no internet or Netflix, so the only thing my mom knew to do to raise my spirits and keep me occupied was to load up the wheelchair and go to the library. We’d bring boxes of books home at a time. As the summer wore on and I progressed to half-casts and physical therapy, I became a stronger and more fluent reader. I moved on from the Berenstain Bears and Frog and Toad, to books like James and the Giant Peach and Beezus and Ramona


My most vivid book memory from that summer, though, was reading the Secret Garden, by Frances Hogson Burnett. Oddly enough, I can’t remember if I actually read it (that’s a pretty tough book for a 7 year old), or if my mom read it to me. I don’t suppose it matters too much. That story really unlocked the magical power of literature to transport me out of my own world. I was completely captivated by Mary Lennox and Colin and Dicken and heartless Mrs Medlock, the key and the overgrown garden. (Maybe this book is where I learned to love gardens as well?). 


I quickly read Hodgeson Burnett’s other books, and my favorite of all time is The Little Princess. My sister and I acted out this riches to rags to riches story hundreds of times throughout our childhood with costumes, with dolls and every other way you could think of. 

Without that accident to lay me up that summer, I may not have become such a solid reader at such a young age. I might not have developed such an appreciation for books to transport me and lift my spirits when I was in pain or feeling low. 


Had I not become such a strong reader, I would never have become a writer.  I would also have missed out on thousands of adventures, delightful conversations and a level of compassion and understanding of the world that I am so privileged to continue to have. I would not be the person I am now had that summer not taken the turn that it did. The Secret Garden will always be beloved by me because of the escape and wonder it offered me during an otherwise miserable time in my life."


 

We share stories (it doesn't matter the vehicle the story is prescribed to) to know we are not alone. One of my favorite children's authors, Kate DiCamillo, speaks very passionately about how formative children's books were to her. Kate often spent long bouts in the hospital for recurrent pneumonia. She talks about books as a balm for the soul. When she was confined to a room and her bed, books provided her an escape.


Four years ago, our oldest son spent nearly a week at OU Children's Hospital for a blood infection. We knew he would be okay, but they had to wait it out. While having the ability to watch endless streams of TV and video games from the hospital was like winning the lottery for our kiddo, he quickly became irritable, laying in bed. Unfortunately, the site where the blood infection started was on his foot, so he was unable to walk. The Children's Hospital was able to bring a book cart around and let him choose whatever he liked. The Dog Man books by Dav Pilkey became a big hit that summer and, consequently, kick-started his love of reading.


We're very grateful that our children are healthy and haven't had the need to spend much time at Children's. However, we know that is not the reality for many. There are many children in our community who spend their weekends inside the hospital, confined to a bed or a wheelchair. If a book could provide them that escape, that would be magic.


During our run of Fairytale Farms, even if you're not an audience member, we invite you to bring a board book, picture book, or Young Adult/chapter book for the patients at Children's. We will be collecting these until March 30th. We know the impact books have on children. We hope you'll continue the love of story for these kids by sharing your favorite books with them.


What books impacted your childhood? We want to hear about it.


  • Brenna & Justice

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