Editor’s Note: We are so honored to have our own Executive Director Kathleen O’Malley Brown tell us about her childhood experiences with reading and growing up with dyslexia. She shares some of her favorite books and stories that introduced her to the joys of literature. Thank you, Kathleen!
By Kathleen O’Malley Brown, Executive Director
What was my favorite book as a child? Reading any book for me did not begin until I was ten and in the fourth grade. Until then, reading was almost impossible because the words danced on the page. However, I’m from a generation when TV was limited to three stations, and soap operas monopolized school hours, and DVD players—well, such things weren’t even thought of yet! Phones were big bulky things that sat on nightstands or hung on kitchen walls. Bottom line: staying home from school was boring. But for me it was that boredom that turned me on to books.
The night before being at home sick, my cousin, Mary Beth, sent over her collection of Nancy Drew books written by Carolyn Keene.
These copies were old—someone in the family must have given her their set. Today, I am so glad that she chose to pass the set onto me!
Being at home sick with nothing to do, I picked up one of those books, The Hidden Staircase.
I remember opening its first page and watching the letters swirl on it. I must have been determined for something to do because I sat there looking at the page until the letters came into focus. The best part about this was realizing that I did actually know how to read!
From that day forward, I no longer struggled with reading. I finished The Hidden Staircase in record time and moved on to the next one. My mother would later say to my aunt and uncle, “First we could not get her to read. Now, we can’t get her nose out of a book!”
I found a similar series in mysteries that featured a girl name Betsy and her friend, Honey. It was when I began to crave bigger stories that I was moved to pursue the classics and spend a lot of time in local libraries. Reading a really well-written book became my priority, which turned me on to autobiographies as my curiosity about the authors grew. Steinbeck was my first (his is an interesting story, especially the part about his sister).
One autobiography stands out (and Google proved to be no help in gaining the title or person’s name). He was the son of an African chief who went to Oxford. His claim to fame was acting as the African chief in Tarzan films [Ed. Harry Baird?]. What stuck with me these many years was his struggle to find foods in England that agreed with his African tastes. His enthusiasm came across the page when he found peanut butter—rich in protein—and he was able to live on it while going through college and being so far away from home.
I love reading. It not only occupies time, but moves it faster when I need it to do so, especially when I have to pass the time waiting. In addition, reading exercises my brain. Reading teaches me things and, even better, introduces me to people I would never have known.
Sometimes stories parallel my own—only they’re better because they help me find good solutions to my own challenges! Two that were most memorable, that I read while still in high school, were written by Theodore Dreiser—An American Tragedy and Sister Carrie. Both lacked in the firm moral code of their day, but for me, they painted a clear picture about choices and their consequences.
My love of reading forces me to encourage all children to read!
Featured photo: stockimages