It started when I was four. My mom told me it was time I started to learn to read on my own. I didn't want to. I tried to show that I could by reciting my books (I had them all memorized) but my mom knew better. So she dropped the bomb--she wasn't going to read me any new books.


I got on the wagon quick-style at that point. I was reading Beverly Cleary before I started Kindergarten. The Ramona books were my first favorites (after the Berenstain Bears). Ramona reminded me a lot of me, only she had a loving, complete family like I wanted. I made some of the same mistakes, but I got hit for them and I envied her. I sometimes wished my sister lived with us (she moved out to our grandma's when I was born because she was very materialistic and Mom couldn't keep up and she wanted to live there, so Mom let her go--to this day, she claims mom 'abandoned' her when she was DELIGHTED to move in with Grandma).

My life was pretty horrible, so I preferred reading about kids who had better lives. The Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley Kids books were great to me, as I always wanted to be a twin, for as long as I could remember. So I guess if I wanted to be a character in a book, it would have been a blend between Jessica and Elizabeth. Book-smart like Elizabeth, but always pushing limits like Jessica--the way I was, only with a twin and a family who wanted me. When I got to change my name when I was 7, I wanted to change it to Jessica. My mom hated the name and wouldn't let me.

When I was ten, I became Jessica in my head. She wasn't a Wakefield, but rather, her life was even worse than mine. It was an escape that made my life seem better. She was an alien and an identical sextuplet. She was a shapeshifter, but my favorite thing about her was that she could do something I called space-dimensional shifting. She could move through space effortlessly just with a step and she could move through dimensions to become a part of any world she wanted (although this was taxing and usually knocked her out and her aim was not the best). The whole thing started when her mother was killed when she was a baby and she and her sisters escaped, but there was an active wormhole that had formed only a moon's distance from her homeworld and they ended up dimensional-shifting for the first time, with no destination.

The first place she ended up was in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles world, lol. She had a family who cared for her until a broken home happened when she was 7 and she ended up on the streets, doing drugs and whoring after she was gang-raped when she was 9 and fought constantly (fist fights, knife fights, etc.) just to survive.

Yes, that's what it took for my ten-year-old self to have a worse life in my head than my real life. She eventually ended up in television worlds, book worlds, all sorts of places until I left her behind when I was 16-17. I left her behind because her character was slated to die by the age of 20 (when I believed I'd die by--I never expected to live this long). I took up a new character, Andy, in a book-world that eventually evolved so far off track that she's now the main character in her own universe that I'm currently almost 500,000 words into making into a novel.

I used to read, on average, 2 books a day. Mostly kids books, because I didn't like adults as main characters (I still prefer kids as main characters) , but I read A Midsummer Night's Dream when I was nine and started reading star trek novels when I was about 12. I really got into Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine (not goosebumps, those came out when I was at the end of high school) and Caroline B. Cooney. I really got into horror and would have graduated to adult horror if Stephen King hadn't been my first try. I hate his writing. His writer's voice makes me want to destroy things, particularly his books. Carrie was the only one I could sift through. I go from boredom to annoyance within the first chapter of his books and then it just gets worse. But I love his movies--go figure.

If it hadn't been for that setback, I'd have started reading the Anita Blake series when I was 13, when my best friend (she wasn't at the time, but is now) was telling me about them. I loved sci-fi and supernatural (I can't bring myself to cal a kid's book 'horror') when I was10+ as my favorite genres. I'd always liked horror movies and 'scary' poem. In fact, this is an excerpt from the 3 page poem I memorized when I was 5 and recited for my kindergarten class on Grandparent's Day:

LITTLE Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
  An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
                 Ef you

Full text can be read here:

It was my favorite poem in this big book I had that I ADORED as a kid. It's impossible to find now--it's either The Big Golden Book of Poetry, edited by Jane Werner and illustrated by Gertrude Elliott from 1949. It had a bunch of twisty tales like that in it (including Mr. Nobody) and the illustrations are still in my mind, 20 years after I last saw it (it would cost about $150 to get a scuffy copy online) or Gyo Fujikawa (illustrator), A Child's Book of Poems, 1969. But neither seems to have the right illustrations and Little Orphant Annie isn't in ACBoP that I could tell. It's frustrating not knowing what book it was.

Books were my friends and the one thing my mom fully indulged me in. One of the biggest hells about being in foster care was that I wasn't allowed to read. You read that right. I was willing to go back to my abusive mother and would rather die (a serious thought--at age 9) than live in that bookless place (there were other things, but the lack of books or school or learning or friends was the top of my list). My mom got me a library card and took me a few times a week or whenever I'd ask. She bought me books left and right and I cherished them (much improved upon eating them, as I did until I was two). I eventually got a membership to a used book store program that let me exchange my books for new used ones. I brought in several garbage bags full and left with several grocery bags full.

I used to leave the library with so many books I couldn't carry them all by myself. I'd have them all read in a week, typically. I actually read the entire children's fiction section at my library so that by the time I was 11, I had nothing to check out and had to move on to young adult.

When the most recent Ramona book came out when I was 18 or 19, I read it immediately and then bought it. I tried to reread them recently, but after having read them so many times, I still have them memorized. I stopped reading them by the time I was 12. I'm 27 now (28 in exactly two weeks).

DH has me beat in that he was reading Tolkien when he was four (his dad didn't read fast enough for him, so he started reading them himself--he taught himself to read at three with comics in the newspaper) and only read one young children's book--he just didn't like them. He had little connection with other children, his tastes and mind worked more like an adult and he was all about the fantasy genre. He, too, read anything he could get his hands on, even his sister's Ramona books, lol.

We hope our children have the same love of reading that we did as children and still do as adults.


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Jun. 3, 2008 at 4:10 PM

I can't remember when I started reading but I know I was reading by first grade at the latest and reading adult novels by 3rd grade. First one was actually a non-fiction book called Donor which was about a 17 year old who ended up brain dead and her foster parents agreed to donate her organs so then it goes into the stories about all the people who got her organs. VERY interesting and I remember reading it on the way back from Chicago after we went down there for Mother's Day in 1990.

I don't read very much Stephan King either. I'll read SOME of his stuff (his short stories I liked a lot) but won't read most of his books. Some of them are okay though. The Green Mile was a really good one.

I need to read the Ramona books again, I loved Ramona as a kid and loved watching the series too.

One thing I'm NOT looking forward to is going through my books to get ready to get rid of them. I won't be able to take them with me to South Korea.

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Jun. 3, 2008 at 4:16 PM That's so sad, Janeen. Can anyone store them for you?

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Jun. 3, 2008 at 5:39 PM Possibly but I'm trying to not ask my sister to store too mcuh and I'm already going to be taking over my yearbooks, diaries, writing, that kind of thing. But I may set aside some of my books too. I've actually cut down on a lot because we didn't have the room here to keep them all and John kept getting on my case about the kinds of books I was reading.

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Jun. 3, 2008 at 10:04 PM Well, anything that can't be easily replaced, I'd suggest storing with her. The only things I regret not having that have been left behind are the books I can't have back.

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Jun. 4, 2008 at 8:06 PM

So, we have the reading thing in common, too!

I read "big books" early, also reading Berenstain Bears and Ramona when I was just five/six. Moving to adult novels by second grade. My favorite genre was most definitely sci-fi, time travel, "horror"..I liked the books that stimulated my mind....

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