I wanted to call this ‘How Children’s Literature Saved My Life’, but the simple truth is that my life was never in any real danger. My imaginative life, however, was in grave peril. It hovered on the brink. This is the story of how it was resuscitated in the simplest of ways – by reading children’s books.
I have degrees in English literature and library science. I have been an English teacher and a librarian. My love of reading has shaped my life. And yet, a few years back, I almost stopped reading. When given the choice between turning on the television and opening a good book, I would invariably reach for the remote control.
How this sad state of affairs came to be is all too easily told, and I don’t suppose I am the only sufferer. I’ll bet it happens all the time. For you see, my life had simply become too full to read. I was working six days a week, I had three young children to care for, and that left little time for anything else. If I was lucky I was able to read two books a month – in a good month. Often I read only one. Strange as it may seem, the real crisis came when I joined a book club. You can begin to see the problem. If you only have time to read one or two books a month, it becomes irksome to have your choices dictated for you. They were excellent choices – critically acclaimed, prize-winning novels most of them – but they weren’t my choices. Reading had once been fun; now it was work. I began to resent these books. And so I stopped reading.
But the desire to read never entirely went away. I was handling books all day long in the library, and I found myself making lists of books I would like to read when I had the time. Needless to say, the lists got longer and the books remained unread. Then one day I was rescued from my melancholy by our Children’s Librarian. This was at about the same time that the fourth book in the Harry Potter series was due to be released, and J. K. Rowling was scheduled to do the world’s largest book reading at the Skydome in Toronto. I asked our Children’s Librarian what all the fuss was about.
‘You mean to tell me you haven’t read Harry Potter?’ she asked. I had to confess that I was totally ignorant of Harry Potter. I had no idea who he was. Had he written many books, I asked. She rolled her eyes and went to the stacks, where she found Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. ‘Here,’ she said, ‘read that.’
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