When I was six, my parents and I went on vacation to Hawaii. Even though I was young, I still remember most of the trip because the landscape of Hawaii was such a contrast to my home state of Maine. To explore such a foreign and exotic location made a lasting impression on me.
I remember the seemingly endless plane ride and the horrible jet lag that followed. On the brighter side, I remember waking up at five in the morning to climb up to the roof and gaze at double rainbows. I remember walking on the beach and stumbling upon a secluded waterfall. I remember eating a hamburger in a restaurant where cats came and went from the kitchen as they pleased. (As a six-year-old with a strong affinity for cats that bordered on obsession, the health and safety implications of this did not bother me. I was pleased, in fact, to eat at a restaurant that would treat humans and cats as equals).
Perhaps most importantly, during this vacation I took a huge step forward as a reader. I finished my first chapter book by myself. The book was the current read a loud in my 1st grade classroom: Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library! by Eth Clifford. I had already heard the first couple of chapters in class. My mom, determined that I would not fall behind during my two-week absence, searched the bookstore on the island and (somewhat miraculously) found a copy.
She would read a couple of chapters to me each evening. One night, during a particularly suspenseful plot point, I thought, “I want to know what happens next.” I had thought this many times before, but I never had the tools necessary to do anything about it. With five months of 1st grade under my belt, I was finally ready to tackle the chapter book solo. That night, I attempted what I had only thought about before: I kept reading. I’m sure I had a few vocabulary questions for my mom along the way, but by the plane ride home I had finished the book on my own.
Just like Hawaii seemed like another world to me, I was starting to discover innumerable magical worlds between the covers of a book. And the best part was I didn’t need to rely on anyone to get to these worlds. Not my teachers, my parents, or even a pilot. Self-sufficient reading gave me independence that I had never felt before.
My love of reading has stayed with me my entire life. I like to think that my first chapter book influenced me at a young age in terms of my career choice. My love of reading goes hand in hand with my livelong love of libraries. Now, I am lucky enough to work in my hometown library’s Children’s Department. And, I will admit, when locking up for the night, I always do a thorough job of checking for patrons to make sure there are no “prisoners in the library.”