Jessie walked down by the little brook and stopped to look at the waterfall. It was beautiful. ‘I must look in the refrigerator,’ she said with a laugh. It was a funny refrigerator. There was a rock behind the waterfall, and the night before Jessie had put the two bottles of milk in a hole in this rock. Now she took out the bottles and found that the milk was very cold.*
The Boxcar Children
(Albert Whitman, 1989)
Author: Gertrude Chandler Warner
Modern Mrs Darcy is hosting a blog carnival with the theme “The Book That Changed My Life.” So many books, so little space. And complicated by the fact that some (many?) books that changed my life were the right thing at the right time, but not necessarily books I’d recommend. But . . .
It is not an exaggeration to say that The Boxcar Children is “The Book That Changed My Life.” I was not an orphan, not abandoned, and (to my great disappointment) never had the opportunity in childhood to fend for my unsupervised self while living in a boxcar, cooking peas over an open fire.
I was, however, not a reader.
My parents were readers, of wide-ranging tastes in books, and I was the oldest child. I had the alphabet down well before starting school. My favorite book as a very young child was The Sesame Street Dictionary. I was read to, raised by readers, and surrounded by books. And in kindergarten and first grade, learning to read myself was the most mind-numbingly boring, hard, useless thing in the world as far as I was concerned.
Boring: Birds sitting on branches carrying on inane two-word conversations. No plot. No character development. No story. Punctuated by . . .
Hard: “Sound it out!” (Was that “Were” or “Where”?) I was an introverted perfectionist – practicing a skill I had not mastered in front of a reading group composed of my equally bored peers was not a recipe for instilling in me a great love of literature.
Useless: I had a good number of books memorized from having them read to me. As far as I was concerned, that was close enough to reading to actually qualify as reading. And I figured I could continue with that approach indefinitely. Why bother with this whole “Sound it out!” thing?
On the very last day of first grade (a half-day), my mother took me to our local library on the way home from school. I’m sure that we picked up a stack of “I Can Read” books with their two-color illustrations and double-spaced text for me to stonewall about as usual. Then, with a sigh of resignation tinged with just a bit of exasperation, Mom handed me a copy of the Boxcar Children. “It’s a long book – a chapter book – so it’ll probably take you awhile, but if you try it, I think you’ll like the story.”
The next day I dumbfounded my mother by coming up to her and saying, “That was a good book!” I had loved it – four kids playing house but for real in a boxcar, sleeping on pine needles, cooking their own food, “refrigerating” their glass-bottled milk behind a waterfall . . . And yes, I was able to answer my startled mother, I had, in fact, read the entire book since we’d checked it out the day before.
Who knew books could be so interesting – so worth reading?
And with that, I became a reader. A voracious, insatiable, twelve-books-at-a-time (most of which I wouldn’t finish) reader.
To read about other life-changing books, head over to the carnival at Modern Mrs. Darcy: