My Reading Autobiography

by Raychel Trevino

My Great-Granparents' Gift - The Love of Reading - Age 2

On my father's side of the family, I am the oldest grandchild, and great-grandchild. While our family was relatively poor, enough was scraped together by my great-grandparents to order a subscription to Humpty-Dumpty Magazine for me: their only great-granddaughter named after their own daughter who died at an early age of breast cancer.

While we visited them frequently, it was a special trip and event when the magazine arrived at their house. My mom and I would enter their small home, and a towering woman and crinkly blue-eyed man would be ready for the exchange: one hug and kiss for one children's magazine.

It wasn't until this past summer at our family reunion that I discovered something about them, and consequently myself. As my cousins and I were looking at some of great-grandparents' artifacts, I picked up a pair of old wire-rimmed spectacles. One of my older aunts came over, and said, "You know, my grandparents would share those. They were both avid readers. Your great-grandfather would read by the window every afternoon, while his wife made dinner. Your great-grandmother would read by the light of a kerosene lamp, after the dinner dishes were done." My grandmother (their daughter) didn't have time from her busy schedule to read, and my grandfather was illiterate. My parents weren't readers, either. As a child, these adults would whisper over my head as they visited and talked. "She likes to read," they'd say as if there was something different about me. At least that's what I thought, until last summer. Now I think what they were really saying was, "She's just like them."

My First, Favorite, and Only Memory of Dad Reading to Me - Age 4

My absolute favorite childhood memory of my father is the evening right before dinner when I had FINALLY bugged him enough to read me a story. I can still remember the glow coming from our Staring Directly Into the Sun yellow kitchen, the smell of my mom's carne guisada cooking, and sitting in my dad's lap on our burned out velour arm chair, and feeling the magic pouring out of the pages of the original Berenstain Bears book. It was powerful. I still have a part of me that dreams of living in a tree house.

He never wanted to read to me, and I don't think he ever did again. Even now it's rare that he reads aloud. That was the thing with my dad - he read, but not aloud. He has always associated his Mexican accent with not sounding or being intelligent, and if there is one thing my dad is it's smart. Still, insecurities are powerful things. Even now, years later, after turning his lowly produce truck into a multi-million dollar a year business, he declines interviews and invitations to speak at national conferences because of his accent. I keep telling him that it has really worked out for Antonio Banderas!

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My Portable Reading Buddy - Kindergarten - Age 5

On my 5th birthday, I was fortunate enough to receive a portable record player, and read along books. I didn't go anywhere without them. I loved everything about them. They didn't mind reading the story over and over, and frankly, I think my whole family appreciated the fact that I would stay still and quiet anxiously awaiting the chime so I could turn the page.

Reading Rainbow Races - 1st Grade - Age 7

In first grade, my reading skills and comprehension took off. To motivate us even more, my teacher, Mrs. Shobe, put up a chart and the Reading Rainbow Race began! My husband happened to be one of my classmates in first grade, and he says he remembers wanting to impress me by trying to catch up to me, but while the rest of the class was on yellow, I was on purple. He says that's when he knew he was in love with me, however, on several occasions in our home he has snatched a book from my hands, thrown it across the room, and demanded my attention. Be careful what you wish for!

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The Age of R.I.F.

Elementary up to 6th Grade

During these years educational labels began to define me as a "good reader." I would get pulled out for G.T. Reading only - I would get sent back to class during G.T. Math time. :) I also participated in U.I.L. Creative Writing from 1st - 6th grades, and I would overhear teachers talking about me. "She's a good reader, so we can keep her in the group," they'd whisper. Little pitchers...

Twice a year we'd have R.I.F. events, and those were the best for me. Choosing just one, or sometimes two books was so hard, but I created my own library at home with those books. I graduated into the world of chapter books thanks to this wonderful program! Hello, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, & Betsy Byars...just to name a few.

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Middle School - A Book Lover's Survival Guide

Mom vs Teen

I'm the oldest of three siblings, and there are 4 1/2 years between each of us. Needless to say, I was the built-in babysitter. My mother was alone at home with three kids, and served as my dad's secretary/dispatcher while he drove his 18-wheeler. She took us to school, piano lessons, sporting events, made sure we did our homework, baked for bake sales, made costumes for every event, kept us and the house sparkling clean, and all of us were well fed. Add a dash of OCD, and it was just a matter of time until the lava came spewing out of that homemade volcano. The vinegar to her baking soda was watching me read. "If you have time to read, you have time to help me clean something," she'd screech.

The Rebel Nerd was born.

Nothing makes a teenager do something more than hearing a parent say they can't do it. I would read whenever I could, but my mom meant business, and she wasn't afraid to wield her authority, so I had to be creative. I'd wake up early on Saturdays and announce, "I'm cleaning out and organizing all my drawers." Nothing pleased my mom more than showing initiative - with housework. I'd remove the drawers from my dresser, and sit on the floor by the foot of my bed, and start reading. If Mom came in, I'd quickly slide the book under the bed, and start putting my socks in neat rows. I liked living on the edge.

Below you can see that she's still at it!

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High School - Disappearing in Books & Finding Myself

The Horrors of High School

During my high school years, books were my best friend, my shield, and the club I belonged to. Unfortunately, there weren't book clubs in my school at that time, so it was a club of one. Everyone seemed to be finding their niche, their clique, their club, or at least their identity. I just couldn't figure myself out, but one thing was for sure, cool was one thing I wasn't. I wanted Jake Ryan to come find me and save me from high school, but I found Stephen King instead.

He was dark, dangerous, and mysterious. Reading his novels was the edgiest thing I had done. The movies based on his books were coming out, so the guys in my class thought it was cool that I was reading his books. It was a perfect conversation starter. As terrified as I was, I continued reading mixing a little Dean Koontz here and there. While I read, I discovered that I really liked King's science fiction, the space type, and I forked off again. The Eyes of the Dragon is probably my favorite King novel, and some how it has probably led to my love of Regency Romance (but that isn't something I usually broadcast). I was also an avid reader and collector of Conan the Barbarian comic books. Back then I thought they were cool, now I realize that Conan was just my type, in my fantastical imagination at least (the boy in the top row of my 1st grade class picture isn't exactly the bear fur undies type).

Throughout all this, I had wonderful English teachers that noticed that I usually had my nose in a book, from The Far Side to It, so they made some suggestions of their own. Thanks to them, I fell in love with To Kill a Mockingbird, my absolute favorite book of all time. I still read it every other year - minimum. Other favorites are The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, and various works by Charles Dickens. As you can tell, I had teachers who loved the classics, and in the end they helped me love them, too.

By this time, I was the oldest cousin of 16, and we were all neighbors, living in a rural area of town we affectionately called The Ranch. My father and all his brothers (five in all) were all truck drivers and our moms all stayed at home working 24-hour shifts taking care of us. One of my dad's sisters also lived at The Ranch, and she was a teacher and her husband was a school principal. They would bring home left over ditto sheets, extra workbooks, milk crates, and every summer my uncle would bring home a film strip projector and film strips. My school opened with 10 students, and one teacher's aide (the second oldest cousin). We had curriculum and schedules, recess and naptime. It was a free daycare for all of my aunts, and free education for me. We had most of our younger cousins reading by kindergarten. This gave me an opportunity to read all my old favorites by authors such as Arnold Lobel, Syd Hoff, & Lillian Hoban. Of course, I couldn't forget The Berenstain's Bears.

It turned out that I had known who I was all along. I was the girl who loved family, and loved losing myself and finding myself within the pages of a good book.