by Becky Swanberg - writer, teacher and friend of eMoon
I recently started reading Anne of Green Gables to my daughters, ages five and seven. It seemed like a good choice when I stumbled on the old copy, but once I started I thought it would be too much. The sentences were so long and the descriptions rambled for days and the main character herself…well, I didn’t think my girls would buy it.
But they did.
At first, the descriptions of trees and brooks and meadows wore my poor girls out a bit.
“Is the little girl coming soon?” the five year-old asked before we finished the first page. (It should not have surprised me; this daughter is known for starting road trips by asking at the bottom of our alley if we’re getting close yet.)
But we read on, through the first chapter where the nosy neighbor speculates, past the initial conversation where the subtle friendship was lost on young ears, and into the next chapter where poor Anne waits anxiously for Matthew to claim her. My older daughter yawned; the younger began to flip pages of a different book.
And then Anne started talking. I watched my girls’ eyes widen. I watched them cover their tight smiles with little hands as they tried not to laugh out loud. But the fight was over when Anne began to explain to Matthew that she often imagined being so plump that she might have “elbows with dimples.” Roaring laughter followed, the book was closed for the night, and the sever year-old sighed, “Oh, Anne” in a way that only fellow Anne-fans could appreciate.
In that reading I remembered something Anne had taught me so many years ago: she taught me to love words.
I guess it wasn’t Anne as much as it was L.M. Montgomery, but together those two spun prose so thick and rambling that it made me move slow and careful through it. I remember reading parts aloud just because I wanted to hear how it sounded, wanted to feel it move out of my lips.
I still love words, love how they pile together or spread out freely or capture a thought that I could barely reign in. I have the Anne books to thank for that. Come to think it, I have a lot of childhood books to thank.
I learned so much from the books that found me when I was still a young reader. Not just action and adventure and expanding-my-world kind of stuff, though there was plenty of that in Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, two books I ran into around fourth grade. There were so many books that widened my imagination and exposed me to genres that I hadn’t yet met. But then there were hard things I learned from books.
Katherine Patterson, with her Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, taught me that life is unfair and that kids- kids like me who run and play and imagine- are mortal. I remember feeling so wronged by the death of one of her main characters, as if some agreement somewhere had been violated—not between her and me, between me and the universe.
Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, a simple story set in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen, spoke of friendship, war, prejudice, and fear. I learned that the world isn’t always safe, that leaders can’t always be trusted, and that true friends always can.
In Dahl’s books I met James with his giant peach and cheered on Matilda, distressed by the idea that adults could be the bad guys in a kid’s life.
It was through books that I first encountered ideas like colonization, war, oppression, and treachery. I met the bullies in books before I met them in junior high. Books widened my world, but also darkened it a little at times; I think that it’s important to let books do both.
Decades have gone by and I’m passing books along to my own herd of readers. Some books we’re discovering together because I somehow missed them along the way (I’m looking at you, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever) and some books are like introducing my kids to pieces of me that I had almost forgotten.
I’m not sure what we’ll tackle once Green Gables is done, maybe we’ll need to recover a bit with some shorter sentences and fast-paced action. Maybe we’ll follow Anne into her next adventure. Either way, I’m grateful for Anne and all the rest, grateful for the things I learned as a kid and the things I get to watch my own kids learn.
And it’s all because I opened a book.
Follow Becky's other amusing musings on her website at www.beckyswanberg.com. While you're at it, do us a solid and encourage her to publish those manuscripts!