In a recent post I discussed my predilection for twitter chats for writers. Not only are they a great use of online time, but they are also a great place to meet fellow writers. During one such chat (#ufchat - Urban Fiction Chat), I crossed paths with Elyssa Kirkham (@ElyssaJK on Twitter) who blogs about creative writing, reading and making handmade books on Handmade Library. Elyssa read some of the previous book love posts and was inspired to share her own story with us. Here, in her own words, is a wonderful story of book love at its best by Elyssa Kirkham. I am sure you will enjoy this one!
It took a while to think of Where the Red Fern Grows as my first book love, because there were many books I loved as a child. I cottoned on to stories early on. Mine is a family of readers, and as number six of seven siblings, I benefited from the collective reading habits of not only my parents, but my older siblings, as well.
By the time I started school, I was ready and desperate to read. I came home from school on the first day of first grade, and dramatically accused my mother of being a liar: "You said I would learn how to read in first grade. We didn't even talk about reading!" Nonetheless, I quickly picked up on it and was soon a precocious reader. I filled bored hours with books — Grimm's fairy tales and everything by Roald Dahl. I loved books and their simple companionship, but —
I hadn't yet discovered just how powerful they could be.
This realization came in third grade. For reading time, our class was divided into groups of different reading levels that read their own books. Towards the end of the year, our group read Where the Red Fern Grows. It was a challenge, but I was pulled in by the story of a boy who worked hard to earn his coon dogs. I was caught up watching their skill in coon hunting grow, along with their love for each other. I learned with them, triumphed with them and cheered them on.
And then we reached the inevitable climax.
My group was in class, reading it together, on the edge of our seats as Big Dan and Little Ann fought and defeated a mountain lion to protect their master. We bit our nails down as Billy carried Big Dan home and tended to his wounds. We begged Little Ann to snap out of it, to get better. And when they both died, our group erupted into sobs and sniffles.
This, of course, earned us some odd looks from the other groups. Why were we crying? Were we really crying over a book? They didn't understand it, and I was overwhelmed. Up to this point, I don't think any story had moved me in the same way, had made me care so much about the characters, and then had put it all at stake.
After finishing the book, it occupied my little brain for weeks afterwards. It was perhaps the first time that I had read something that so obviously didn't have a happy ending. It was the first time that I realized that books could be more than fun, silly entertainment or encyclopedic tomes of information.
Books could be sad, but still so very good.
I'm not sure Where the Red Fern Grows was the first book I loved, but it was the first book that broke my heart. And yet I still loved it — even after sobbing through class reading period over the loss of Big Dan and Little Ann. Reading Where the Red Fern Grows was the first time a book had had such a deep effect on me.
It broke my heart and I couldn't hold that against the book, because I was glad for the story. It had taught me about faith, love, devotion, selflessness, loss and grief, and it left me a better person for it. I wouldn't have taken a minute of it back. And that's sort of what true love is about — isn't it?
As Billy said, "You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.”
I would like to thank Elyssa, again, for participating in the Rivera Runs Through It Book Love Series and I hope you take the time to get to know her a bit better either through twitter chatter or by checking out her blog.
In the meantime, has Elyssa's post sparked any memories for you?
Do you remember the first book where you had such an emotional response?
How about any group reading experiences like Elyssa had with her class?
Finally, if you feel like YOU are ready to share your own first book love, e-mail me!