Once upon a time, a shy little girl sat reading at her desk in a combined fifth and sixth grade classroom. Bright sunshine filtered through the windows, but she failed to notice it. During an hour given over to silent reading, she’d become lost in the story world of The Swiss Family Robinson. A voyage of discovery...an appeal for help...a thrilling rescue...everything else slipped away.
“Linda…” A voice intruded into the wonder of printed words.
The tropical island she was exploring in the book disappeared. Her teacher’s voice took over.
She looked up to see thirty pairs of eyes locked on her. Soon giggles from some of the girls and teasing laughter from a few of the boys surrounded her. Her toes began to curl and she felt her face heat. She realized the rest of the children had put away their own reading. The teacher had long ago started another lesson while her head was still bent over the open book.
Although this teacher was not one to scold, she expected him to tell her to pay better attention in the future. She waited for the words that would only make her feel more awkward. Instead, her teacher began talking about the remarkable adventure of becoming caught up in a story.
Anyone, he said, who could explore new lands, thoughts and ideas in a book had found a treasure no one could take away. The enchantment of a deeply-felt story would last a lifetime. He praised those who could appreciate a good book and block out any interruptions—interruptions that included his own teaching! By the time he finished, the other children looked at her as if she'd done an amazing thing.
I was that shy little girl, of course, and my teacher was Mr. Frank Talcott at Ramona Elementary School in Hemet, California. Although I can't remember his exact words now (I wish I could time-travel back and hear them again), the impression they made is still a part of me. It could have gone either way that day. Reading for me could have become associated with an embarrassing scene at school. Instead, my teacher's words gave me a glimpse of something truer and deeper.
I began to see the world of stories and imagination in a new way. I mined for treasure every time I opened a book. I learned more about the wonder of those deeply-felt stories he spoke about.
The joy of reading became mixed with my memory of Mr. Talcott’s kindness in drawing away the attention of my classmates. The combination gave me a special feeling about books that is an essential part of who I am. It is an important reason why I wrote my own book for children, Mystery Shores.
Without even making the association at first, I set my story on an island full of secrets. I also include a special traveling lighthouse library and celebrate books and reading along with the unfolding mystery. Mr. Talcott's words have become part of my imagination when I write.
There are books that become life-long friends. They can be read again and again with that same special charm every time.
I've tried, but The Swiss Family Robinson is not one of those books for me now. I find I cannot go back and recapture the same feeling I experienced when I read this particular book for the first time. It is a story, however, that is forever linked in my memory to that sunny afternoon when Mr. Talcott spoke about the power of stories and changed the way I experienced reading forever.
Thank you, Mr. Talcott.
Linda Borromeo is the author of Mystery Shores, a novel for children ages 10-14 (and all fans of historical mysteries). On a quest to save her friend, Christie Edwards must uncover a dangerous secret. Join Christie as she fights for answers on a remote lighthouse island in 1893.