My First Biography or The Importance of Reading as a Child

The Seattle PI published an article that our government should announce today that Harriet Tubman will be replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, hopefully in 2020 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage. They were planning to put a woman on the $10 note, but a resurgence in the popularity of Alexander Hamilton after the success of the play, “Hamilton,” led to a movement to keep him firmly affixed there. 

I remember reading my very first biography in first grade. I was a voracious reader and Scholastic books provided me with endless hours of reading. In particular, they gave me the story of Tubman, a runaway slave who went on thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved families and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad [1].

 As I turned the pages of the book, I was transported to another place and time. I became the slave child, working in the sweltering heat of a cotton field in the Deep South. The story became one of my favorites and I read it so many times, the corners of the pages became rounded. I still remember that little book, the cover, the way it felt in my hands. 

During my life, I have read many, many biographies, but this first one set the stage for my future reading selections, which were frequently stories about other slaves, abolitionists and civil rights leaders. And then, I moved on to books about the Native American experience, such as the heartbreaking “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and biographies of Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and Cochise.  I learned so much about African-American and Native American history in our nation–way more than I was ever taught in my formal education.

My other favorite reading genres were Science Fiction, and then, later, Fantasy. Again, my first SciFi book was from Scholastic, “The Revolving Boy.” I haven’t got a clue who the author was, but by the time I was in third grade, I discovered Robert Heinlein’s “Citizen of the Galaxy.” I was fascinated that a purely fictional story could be told about a slave boy in a futuristic society. Over the next several years, I read any book by him I could put my hands on.

When I got to tenth grade English class, where the booklist included such classics as “The Lord of the Flies,” “The Illustrated Man,” “Flowers for Algernon,” “1984” and many others, I had already read them all. My teacher set me off on my own, reading such works as “The Gulag Archipelago” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”

I have Scholastic, the King County Library System and the librarian at Pioneer Elementary School to thank for enabling a poor child from the blue collar suburb of Auburn, Washington, to escape into other worlds. Especially, the librarian, whose name I can’t tell you, who never stopped me from checking out books meant for much older students, and for stocking the library with the books I fell in love with.

I missed out on a lot of the books aimed at my grade-level in elementary school–“The Hardy Boys,” “Nancy Drew,” Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books (although, a teacher read these to us), and the “Henry Huggins” books (also, read by a teacher), to mention a few. I’m not sure I missed out on that much.

I believe the books I chose to read as a child shaped the person I have become. And I’m pretty happy with that person.

Copyright ©2014-16 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in #heroes, Books, Childhood, Harriet Tubman, Reading, Slavery and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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