By Anne Gleeson
If I wasn’t able to read I cant imagine what my life would be like. Reflecting on this I started to think about learning to read. Now, I can’t really remember the process of learning to read. I think that innately knew how to do it. I can remember the process of learning to spell – “i before e except after c” and learning my times tables and to add and subtract but the process of learning to read does not spring to mind. I remember clearly learning to write and practicing each day perfecting the letters and numbers so skilfully written on the blackboard. I can remember the Betty and Jim books and thinking that they were really boring. But the Open Road To Reading was another story altogether.
I was recently rummaging in a secondhand shop as is my want and I came across a copy of this treasure and the years just fell away and I had an almost instant recall of the stories in the book. However, I do not have the memory of my friend. When I told her about the purchase she was able to recite, with almost word perfect precision, the poem which introduced the volume.
An open road, is a friendly road, I love to travel daily, And kindly folk I meet and greet And talk to them so gaily.
Here in this book are the stories of the Runaway Plum, Two Little Raindrops (called Pitter and Patter), The Brownies Winter House, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Pied Piper and my favourite The Apple Fairy were the fodder of an avid reader. Now as I look through the book I think about how times have changed. The vocabulary of the stories is somewhat outdated and many people in the stories are frolicking gaily. The words and concepts in the stories struck me as being beyond the scope of infant school reading, however, I was able to read these stories and oh how I loved them.
There is one story about Robinson Crusoe. In this story Mr Crusoe has been shipwrecked on the island and is living in a cave when he notices four “savages” running along the beach. He runs down with his gun and shoots two of the savages and scares one off. The fourth savage who was being chased is thus rescued and is so grateful that he becomes Robinson’s slave and is taught to say the words Yes, No and Master…..Oh how times have changed.
In the back of the book is a list of words and phrases which are contained in the story and meant to be part of out vocabulary. One of the phrases which makes me smile is “a wondrous portal”. Now I am not sure that as a child in grade two I knew what a portal was, let alone a wondrous one. And as for using it as part of my vocabulary I cannot image myself sitting at the tea table asking if anyone had experience of a wondrous portal. Some of the stories were written with parts like a play and as a class we would be called on to read out the parts of the particular characters in the story. This was a magical experience and I just loved to be chosen to read one of the parts although I am aware that some of my classmates dreaded being called to read aloud.
One of the great joys of my childhood was being given a book for Christmas or my birthday. The Girls book of Bumper Stories, The Five Little Peppers, Little Women, What Katy Did, to mention just a few. Gift giving was different then, the difference was for whatever the occasion I received maybe an outfit made by Mum and perhaps a book. Not several toys and several books and several outfits. But the joy that receiving a gift of a book, for me, has never diminished.