I didn’t pick up reading particularly quickly. Already the oldest in my class—age seven in first grade—I was outpaced by the kids who had been self-taught at three or four, and then by the six-year-olds who picked up reading lickety-split. By the middle of first grade, I was still struggling to read with Dick and Jane, Spot the dog, and Puff the cat. (Remember those “reading books” commonly used in classrooms all the way from the 1930s through the 90s?) If memory serves, I was treading water in my classroom’s “yellow” group for months, eager to move into the “green” group—the kids reading avidly and without assistance.
At some point the switch flipped, and I was devouring picture books and early readers. The book that solidly turned me into a reader was a chapter book read aloud to our first grade class by my wonderful teacher Mrs. Kennon: Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library by Eth Clifford. I loved the story—about Mary Rose and Jo-Beth, two sisters who get locked into a creepy, possibly haunted old library overnight—so much that after it was read aloud to our class, my mom bought me my very own copy, and I read it on my own at home. Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library was the first chapter book I ever read on my own, and it felt like a massive accomplishment. The paperback is 112 pages, which was enormous and daunting—but wildly satisfying to finish—at the time.
The book is, it turns out, the first in a three-book series, but I don’t recall reading the follow-up books.
I don’t think I was aware that any further books existed at the time. A quick search online reveals that the second book, Just Tell Me When We’re Dead!, was already published by the time I was in first grade. I’m now retroactively bummed that I missed it! The third book, Never Hit a Ghost with a Baseball Bat, released when I was twelve.
By then I had moved fully into my obsession with The Baby-Sitters Club series, which I loved so deeply that my mom had to insist I read another book—any other book—in between each BSC novel I picked up.
I remember being drawn in fully by the novelty of being trapped in a library overnight—which seemed like a fantastic adventure! All those books! No adults!—and equally by the sense of accomplishment that I had, on my own, read this book of over 100 pages. Both the enticing premise and that personal sense that I was, now, a true reader, have stayed vividly with me.
I remember feeling at the time that, after finishing Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library, I could truly read anything. The world and all its books were my oyster. I dove in, and my nose has never emerged from a book—except when it’s buried in my laptop, immersed instead in stories of my own creation.