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FEBRUARY 14TH IS LIBRARY LOVER’S DAY! This whole month we bibliophiles can celebrate our appreciation in having free access to books in our communities. Lending libraries allow us to learn how others think and live, to discover new marvels of invention, and let our imaginations travel to distant lands through the magic of books!
As a reader and author of historical fiction, I’m especially grateful to our librarians, the beloved stewards of countless tomes who introduce us daily to new titles that promise to tantalize and challenge our minds.
Years ago, I spoke at a Friends of the Library event near Seattle and I shared with my kindred souls how I came not only to love writing books, but first, to love reading them.
In my early years, I was extremely shy. My dad’s government work moved us from city to city every year, especially in the fall, making me the perennial “new kid” in class before each holiday season. I remember the state of Ohio and my first-grade attempts at reading. You see, I was dyslexic and the letters had a tendency to mix up in my brain, making words appear more like Greek than English. I’ll never forget sitting at the reading round table in class, all eyes on me as my teacher pressed me none too gently to read from a page of Dick and Jane. I was in torment, and oftentimes I would get nose bleeds from nervousness at having to struggle with reading in front of my classmates.
I wondered then, would I always be illiterate?
Thankfully, that was a resounding NO. My reading breakthrough came in the state of Washington and second grade, when my new school taught a Phonics reading program—breaking down the words into syllables and spelling them like they sounded. Eureka, I was cured! At seven years old I was finally reading!
I began dogging the school library for books, but my biggest thrill was seeing the public library’s Bookmobile roll up outside in the school recess yard.
As I clambered up into that big UPS-sized truck, my nostrils lifting with the familiar, musty scent of books, I gazed hungrily at rows upon rows of stories waiting to be explored. Being a shrinking violet, I found books to be my way of “seeing” and learning about the world from the security of my room, and one of my first “book friends” was Ribsy and his boy Henry, in Beverly Cleary’s Henry Huggins series. As I read about their adventures, I observed how Henry got along in his neighborhood and at school with his friends.
Then in Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren, I found Pippi Longstocking, a girl who despite being gangly and gawky with her red braids and freckles, was outspoken and comfortable in her own skin. When I was with Pippi in a story, I could be brave and adventurous, fighting swashbuckling pirates aboard ship or riding a horse with her pet monkey Mr. Nilsson on my shoulder. Pippi was the girl I wanted to be.
Adolescence came and I began reading intrigue. I enjoyed solving mysteries with Nancy Drew, Nurse Cherry Ames, and Trixie Belden, then graduated on to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and gothic romance novels like Mary Stewart’s The Gabriel Hounds, and Victoria Holt’s The Shivering Sands. Wherever we lived, I made sure to get a library card once we hit town, and the librarians were my gatekeepers into those exciting worlds of adventure!
My reading tastes continued to evolve into both secular and eventually inspirational romantic fiction, which is what I write today. Reading stories by authors like Francine Rivers with her Mark of the Lion trilogy and Redeeming Loveinspired my writing through the years, and libraries helped to make it all possible.
Having access to books enabled me to choose what I wanted to read, and where I wanted my imagination to soar. Did you know that libraries also support us authors? By purchasing our books from the publishers for the shelves, they give you the reader the chance to explore new worlds on your own. I hope you’ll join me in showing gratitude for our libraries this month, and the next time you visit yours, thank your librarian. Because I’ve learned that books and being able to read them are gifts beyond price.