How Books Saved Me

Today I am guest posting at Literacy Musing Mondays Linkup with Mary Hill and Ashley Hales.  Literacy Musing Mondays  is for all bloggers who love to write anything literacy related such as essays about the love of reading and/or writing, book reviews, or posts about fun literacy activities. All family-friendly posts are welcome.


         Some of the most delicious morsels we consume are not  the meals we partake of, but rather the nourishment of words which speak to our souls. When you are the oldest of five children with alcoholic parents, life is tenuous and uncertain, rocky around the edges and loosely glued together by basic threads of food, shelter and clothing. I could always count on those basics while growing up.  Although my father was often either unemployed (“I’m just in between jobs”) or underemployed, we did not go hungry.  God, via neighbors and friends throughout my young life, saw to it that we had enough to eat.

      But the meals that really saved me, body and soul, were the feasts I found in glorious stories, words that took me away from a chaotic and crowded household to a world of people and places that shone with beauty, peace and plenty.


I am lending a hand to my son as he and his family move house (for the 3rd time.) My grandson Hanan, the oldest of 5, is hiding in his room reading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”  As a teacher and a grown up I am loathe to call the Wimpy Kid books ‘literature’ but I will say this—those books have got my grandson reading.

Books were my solace when I was growing up, too. I remember hiding away in my room, shutting out the noise and the too-muchness of my four siblings. As early as the age of 12 or 13, whether I wanted to or not, I was often left to babysit my brothers and sisters while my parents stepped out for the evening.

When I was in charge I just let my brothers and sister play on their own (those were simpler times) while I escaped into the pages of a good book.  I found beauty and gentleness, people who were just like me, getting by on little, yet living with happy hearts. A big family was a plus in hard times; I could definitely relate.

One of those books I carry in my heart is Louisa May Alcott’s “Rose in Bloom” (c. 1876), a sequel to Alcott’s ‘Eight Cousins.’  It was a very old-fashioned coming of age story “with absolutely no moral” as the author stated in the preface.  The lines read like a fairy tale; splendor and parties, fancy dresses, adoring young men—all a young pre-teen girl could want.  I got lost for hours. 

I also fell in love with Alcott’s “Little Women” and gravitated to the lead character of Jo (my mother’s nickname for me).  The heroine and I had much in common: both of us the oldest, bossy to a fault, and enamored of our absent fathers—Jo’s was off fighting the war, mine – a stepfather-was away somewhere drinking or gambling. 

Jo often dreamed at her mother’s feet of her father’s homecoming; perhaps the story resonated so with my young girls’ heart because I longed for that to be true as well—that my father would be present in my life.

Gene Stratton Porter’s classic “Freckles” also became a sacred text to me; I have the volume I read as a 12 year old on my bookshelf today. Dreaming as I read, I envisioned Freckles’ cathedral in the swamp forest as a place of solace.  Freckles created  a place of beauty from the forest at his feet, designed by God, where he was heard and understood.  Between those pages I found an escape to quiet like I’d never known, a place where silence spoke volumes. 

I also found a kindred spirit with Freckles— a father who’d abandoned him, no one but he and God and the stunning beauty of the Limberlost. Although Porter’s story never directly mentioned the Divine, His existence palpated between the lines.  I could sense a Presence in her words, the light glimpsing its way into the Cathedral in the woods, the chapters like a song calling me to a Somewhere Else far away.

There are many other volumes that struck a chord as well—stories like “The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew”, Margaret Sidney, 1881. (from the book jacket),

“Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie, and their widowed mother are a loving family, full of spirit and adventure. Ben and Polly do what they can to support the family, but a bout with measles threatens the well being of the entire Pepper clan, especially Joel and Polly.”

Five children, an absent father and the measles, a threat to our family I remember very well.  The book had been written for me, I was sure.

Another classic was “The Boxcar Children”, Gertrude Chandler Warner, 1942, first book. A tale of four orphaned children living in—imagine!—an abandoned boxcar, making do with little or nothing.  The common thread of happy children scraping by with little, making the best of what they had; the parallels rang true as a bell.

Through all those ringing bells, the resonating tune was God’s song calling me through the pages of these books. I was being drawn  to beauty, peace and provision, while He prepared my heart and soul to hear His voice.

I didn’t listen until many years later, heeding God’s call to come, a lost and lonely little big girl with an empty heart. 

I am still drawn to the classics, the song and rhythm, the beauty of the language a magnifier of the beauty in that other world where I will live some day, with my God who will never leave, who is the resource of all I will ever need.

Books brought me a sort of salvation, carrying me to my Savior; 

they carry me still to this day.

Now back to the LMM linkup.What have you read this week?
What literacy activities have you participated in with your family and loved ones?
All family-friendly posts are welcome. 😉
You will have until Saturdays at 12 p.m. now to link up!  
Literacy Musing Mondays
Ashley from
Ashley @Circling the Story: Blog/Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram
Mary @Maryandering Creatively: Blog/Facebook/Twitter/PinterestInstagram

Last Week’s Top Clicked Post!


Poetry at Work

I started blogging two years ago this month after polling three people I’d never met (and still hope to some day)–LL Barkat, Glynn Young and Laura Boggess. I found them via the online community of The High Calling network and reached out with my questions. Each of them is a gifted writer with their own unique style; each of them encouraged me to follow my passion to write. I was astonished by their kindness and am forever grateful. Since then,LL Barkat has left blogging to follow her passion to begin publishing and TS Poetry Press was born. Glynn is one of the first authors in the TS Poetry ‘Masters in Fine Living’ series.
When I first saw the title of Glynn Young’s newest book, “Poetry at Work” (TS Poetry Press), my only thought was, “I don’t go to work, I teach school.”
Of course, teaching school IS work—ahem! I am a substitute elementary school teacher now–but I don’t have an office, there are no cubicles or board meetings, no corporate setting that I could equate with my picture of Glynn’s work day world.
Instead, I read the title as “Poetry at Work (in me)”—like God’s word at work in me—changing me through its dynamic presence and power.
There is tremendous power in poetry to not only unite people in their love of the same words but to bring light to a gray, old world.
So maybe there was a connection?
I may not have a cubicle or an office, but there is a desk and a chair.  A place for a coffee cup and a pencil jar, a planner and notepad.
Stuff happens here. 
And there are meetings.  Oh, there are meetings, often taking on the tone of repetition and restlessness Young suggests, ‘same time, same people, almost always the same agenda.’ (p. 17 from the Introduction.)
I’ve been in public and private education for over 25 years and I am astonished each year to hear about a conference or a ruling or a system that declares itself to be ‘new’—except that we were discussing the very same approach/idea 25 years ago.
But back to the desk. In Chapter 3 “The Poetry of the Workspace”, Young writes, 
“Workspace is important…It’s the physical area where a person may spend years being creative, productive, 
and (to embrace the current buzz phrase) adding value.”
“Language is spoken and written in workspaces. Ideas are communicated—sometimes well, sometimes not.  
Conflicts and problems arise to be resolved, or are ignored and left to fester.  People are encouraged, reprimanded, lauded and belittled; people create and perform; people manage and survive and flourish and wither.” (pp. 31, 32).
Clearly there are similarities between a classroom and a cubicle. Many of these ‘office’ actions speak to the lives of teachers all across America.  There is plenty of work to do.
There is one way in which a primary teacher’s workspace is different than that of the rest of the working world.
Our plans and procedures immediately affect the lives of 25-30 very young children on a daily basis. Not to mention the runny noses and skinned knees and playground fights and lost lunches.  And one must give grades for performance and passing tests.  (Talk about conflicts and problems arising.)
We are expected to do an enormous amount of magic often with a very few resources—mainly time.
With all the educational requirements of the not-teaching that must be done–consuming precious time to impact the lives of these same young children–the life and joy can get sucked right out of the job.  What’s a person to do?
Look for the poetry.
While I cannot control the workspace I find myself in each day—and certainly less so when I’m in a different classroom each day—I can control my response to that space and pay attention.
At the end of each chapter in “Poetry at Work” Young has written a “poetic exercise.” Chapter Three’s assignment?
“Take a hard look at the space you work in.  
Consider its physical size, the sounds and the smells, 
the amount of natural light versus light fixtures. 
What is the most obvious thing about it?” (p. 33)
The phrase about light made me pause, as I realized that looking for the light is a theme, poetic if you will, that has permeated my life for the last several years, looking to and depending on the light to reveal truth, to warm, to make children shine.
Because of the freedom now afforded me in my ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ job, I have the privilege of leaving a little light wherever I go, (without worrying about whether I met the day’s Goals and Objectives.)  I just pack a few books of poems and stories.

Prior to Christmas break, I read “The Night Before Christmas” to a class of second graders who proclaimed, “Our teacher never reads to us—this is so fun!”
The week before in 2nd grade, it was Shel Silverstein’s, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout.” (All those lovely garbage words–we read just for the delight of it–no learning involved. No ‘find the alliteration’ busy work. Nothing.)
One week I tried a passage with some fifth graders from Caroline Kennedy’s new anthology “Poems to Learn by Heart” –‘Disobedience’ by A.A. Milne.  
“James, James, Morrison, Morrison, 
Weatherby, George Dupree
Took very good care of his mother 
tho’ he was only three.”  
Those beginning lines set a stage for the silliness that follows.  The class did not respond much, (you know 5th graders) but I knew they’d heard me.

It was clear the kids I read to had been robbed of the daily joy of simply hearing the beauty of words read aloud, the repetition and rhythm, the cadence, the sing-songy fun of picture-making that goes on in a young child’s head.  There is so much imagination stirred when one hears a poem and their teachers had no time for that. 

I would read to them even if it wasn’t in the Lesson Plans.

SO–I’m beginning a mini-revolution, if you will, in my workspace, by bucking the education trend. A subversive sharing of light, the privilege of spreading the power of poetry at work.

Will you join me?

Join us in the discussion over at Tweetspeak Poetry
of “Poetry at Work.”
Or at the very least, read the AA Milne poem ‘Disobedience’, above? You’ll like it-I promise.  
Or find a youngster and maybe join the subversive effort to re engage children in the love of poetry?