In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to shout out the people who have done more than anyone else to nurture my interest in reading and build up my confidence as a writer….
So, thank you teachers.
Thank you for squatting beside the classroom bookshelf and helping me choose the next book I was going to devour. I know that I wanted a new book practically every other day, and your patience was amazing.
Thank you for being tolerant with me when I didn’t want to do math because I was so close to the end of this amazing cliffhanger! Thank you for shepherding me down the crowded hallways when I didn’t want to take my nose out of my book and watch where I was going.
Thank you for reading my zany, error-fraught essays, drawing smiley faces on them, gently teaching me not to use commas before the word because and, most of all, thank you for seeing potential in a child’s scribbles.
In You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly says, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”
So…here are the people who guided me as a child, and thus shaped the reader and writer I am today.
#1 My parents
I grew up in a house with piles of books, yet my parents never hesitated to buy a new book for our collection, if I asked for it.
When I was little, my mother had a rocking chair. She rocked me and read me endless picture books. My favorite was about a little sea turtle crawling “to the sea! to the sea!” Later, she steered me towards Newberry medal winners, children’s books that both respected the delicacy of childhood and challenged children to broaden their minds. Many of them are still among my favorite books.
My dad stepped in to feed my love of animals and nature, which we both shared. When I was just getting into chapter books, he bought me a box set of Jim Kjelgaard books, starring Irish setters and black bears and wolves and foxes. Later, he ushered me into the wonderful world of Brian Jacques, which still delights me. Finally, he gave me his favorite book to read: Watership Down.
#2 Barbie Cokkinias
My third grade teacher was a fun-loving lady with an ever-present sense of humor (think Teacher from the Black Lagoon and Sideways Stories from Wayside School). I’ve never seen another teacher put as much creativity and effort into making learning fun. She would bring us baskets of magazine cutouts to use as writing prompts and make us act out our stories in skits.
Most importantly, she assigned us all a journal, which we had to write in at the end of the day. For me, that habit would continue on for years, getting me closer to the 10,000 hours of writing mark!
#3 Susan Serleth
I have always admired my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Serleth, who was the first to introduce the theory of evolution to a class full of Bible-belt students. She was mocked for it (and this was in the 2000s!). I came in for my own fair share of mocking as well; I think I was the only student who got on board with the “new” theory.
Although I mostly remember her passionate, outspoken approach to science, I also remember her reading some terrific books out loud to us. Many of them came to a bittersweet end, like Where the Red Fern Grows or Julie of the Wolves. She didn’t sugarcoat her lessons, and she gave many of us our first dose of realism.
#3 Christine Loveday
My fifth grade teacher gave me more personal attention than any teacher I had had previously. The funny thing is, I think many of her students could say the same. She had a way of making you feel like the most special person in the classroom.
For me, a large part of that special feeling was her support of my love for reading and writing. Other teachers had acknowledged it, but Mrs. Loveday made me feel like I was such a spectacular writer, it was surely my destiny to become the next Charles Dickens. She kept a special corner of her room filled with beanbags, and when I finished my other work early, I was allowed to spend the downtime loafing on these cushions, eating angel food cake that she brought to us. Some of my fondest memories.
#4 Suzin Seaton
Mrs. Seaton, who welcomed me into my first college classroom, has remained a lifelong mentor. To this day, she still allows me to dump 300 page manuscripts in her lap for critique, and her advice is unfailingly helpful.
Perhaps Mrs. Seaton’s most important influence on me is my appreciation of satire. When my mind was at one of its most formative stages, she tempered my glut of Bronte novels with Woody Allen and prevented me from reading the Twilight saga because I was too busy devouring The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’connor. She taught me to turn to the stoical and humorous for insight, rather than the romantic and inflamed.