How did you fall in love with reading? Do you remember the first book you read or the first book that was read to you? I grew up on Disney movies, and the Disney princess I’ve always identified with the most was Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. This song from the movie probably best explains why:
I don’t know if I’ve ever actually walked around with my nose literally in a book — being naturally clumsy, I’d be a hazard to everyone around if I did — but certainly, for as long as I could remember, I always had a book with me when I went out.
I can’t remember what the first book I ever read was, but I do know who to thank for my lifelong love for reading. My mom loved books. Beauty and the Beast was her favourite Disney movie, mostly because she was a major romantic at heart, but, I like to believe, also because she saw a bit of herself in Belle the bookworm.
One of my favourite stories about my mom as a child had to do with Nancy Drew. Mom loved Nancy Drew, but her family couldn’t afford to buy a lot of books. She had a classmate who owned the entire Nancy Drew collection — this was back when the series only had the fifty-six yellow hardcover books — so my mom would borrow the books from her classmate. Mom would hurry to finish each book in a day, usually reading late into the night under the covers, just so she could return it to her classmate the next day and borrow the next book in the series. She then promised herself that whenever she began her own family, if she had enough money, she’d buy her own set of Nancy Drew books for her children.
Not only did Mom make sure my sister and I had the entire Nancy Drew series, she also made reading our main treat. Other families took kids to the toy store or the amusement park; Mom made an event out of going to the bookstore. We grew up in the Philippines, where we don’t have the community libraries I discovered here in Canada. So the National Bookstore branch near school became our second home. Mom became friends with the booksellers at that branch. She knew them by name and gave them presents every Christmas. It was a big chain bookstore in a bustling metropolis, and the staff changed often, but they all knew my mom, and the bookstore felt like home.
Mom encouraged me to read, and she didn’t care what I read, so long as I was reading. That’s probably why whenever I hear about schools or parent groups banning children from reading certain books, it just makes me really mad. I can’t dictate how individual parents choose to form their children’s reading habits, but I do know that if I ever have children of my own, I’ll follow my mom’s method: let the child decide what he’s old enough to read. Chances are, the books he’ll be interested in are books he’s mature enough for, and those that he finds difficult to understand, he can come to the parent for help. I remember the very first adult novel I read: John Grisham’s The Firm. I was around ten. I remember mostly being confused — how do people keep so many characters and so many stories straight? I struggled through it, mostly because I wanted to say I finished an adult novel, and that eventually led to me becoming a big Grisham fan and reading his other books. But mostly I found it confusing, and a little boring. Granted, Grisham is nowhere near as racy as other adult novels, but still, I’m grateful that my mom never interfered with my choice of reading material.
Growing up, I was probably more a Sweet Valley or Baby Sitters Club kid than a Nancy Drew one. Even with Nancy Drew, I much preferred the newer, paperback mysteries to the yellow hardbacks. My mom couldn’t understand it, of course — she thought the original series far superior. Nowadays, when I see the new, even more modernized, Nancy Drew books, I can understand how she felt. Still, perhaps it’s because of my mom that I not only grew up with memories of Nancy Drew, but I also fell in love with mysteries in general. Agatha Christie is my all-time favourite, of course, but I love so many other mystery writers, from so many mystery genres, that it’ll be impossible to list them all here. And all that, because Mom grew up loving Nancy Drew.
Mom passed away last year. Beside her grave is a little glass cabinet. It was meant to be an altar, for a crucifix and a rosary, but since it turned out to be pretty big, we had enough room to put small mementoes in as well. Among the things we placed was our copy of The Secret of the Old Clock.
My sister and I became readers because of Mom. If I ever have children, I know I want them to fall in love with reading as well. There are so many books I want to pass on to them — Lois Lowry’s The Giver, for one, and many other books that have been such a big part of my childhood. Above all, however, I definitely want to pass on the Nancy Drew series, all fifty-six of the original hardcovers. They may end up preferring whatever version of Nancy Drew is being published in their childhood (at least I very much hope there will always be new Nancy Drew books being published), but the original fifty-six are important in a way newer books won’t be. They’re a link to the past, to at least two generations of readers. Mom left behind so much more than Nancy Drew books when she passed. But a love for Nancy Drew is part of Mom’s legacy, and it’s one that I, as a lifelong bookworm, will definitely be passing on.