Learning To Read

The first half of my first grade school year was exciting. My teacher was a young woman we called Miss Rosine. She had black hair worn in an "upflip", a style which was popular during the early 1960s. Once spring was approaching I was becoming bored. I had read all of the books in the bleached-oak classroom shelf, and I was wanting to read something beyond the Dick and Jane books.

Any primary-school teacher who wants the students in her class to "graduate', to successfully move on to the next grade, has to allocate his or her efforts. The slower students need more attention, while the smart kids can be left to their own devices.

So I was bored. I would mentally replay in my head scenes from a movie which both scared and fascinated me, "The Wizard of Oz". When that witch sends out her "pretties", those winged monkeys, were they really monkeys or just really small people? Was that gruff gate-keeper the same actor as the one who played the Wizard? An inquiring mind wanted to know!

That school year ended. Miss Rosine laughed when I asked her when I could take my desk home with me.

"Oh, Larry, that desk is for next year's students! It belongs to the school!"

A long summer began. I looked at the books in a shelf at home. A battered hardback with a colorful painting on the cover caught my attention. It was Carlo Collodi's "Pinocchio".

It was a bit of a slog to read that story. So many words I had never heard! I was able to follow the story, though, but then I happened upon a word which puzzled me mightily. Ton-gue??

"Hey, Mom! What's a tong-goo?"

"Tong-goo? Hmm... oh, it isn't pronounced like that, Larry! It's tongue, you know, that fleshy thing in your mouth."

"Why is it spelled like that?"

"Oh, it just is! Might as well get used to words which are spelled differently than they sound."

"Here's something else I saw in the last chapter. The title of the chapter is 'The Inn of the Red Woodpecker'. Does that mean that the woodpecker is gonna die, like the end?"

My mother laughed. "No, no, an inn is sort of like a motel in the old days!"

I finished the book that summer and I've been a reader ever since!

Pinocchio, by Enrico Mazzanti (1852–1910), the first illustrator (1883) of The Adventures of Pinocchio: