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A Personal Literary Journey: Childhood through High School

A few weeks ago, while meandering through a Greenwich Village bookstore with my date, I came upon a wonderful discovery: D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths.  I was overcome with emotion.  I attempted to articulate my joy to my date; this was one of my favorite books from when I was a child.  My life’s shifting locations and priorities caused me to forget that this book even existed!  It brought back to me a bevy of emotions about my early days as a reader.


When I was a child, around the time of fourth grade, I came upon mythology as an extension of another interest of mine: comic books.  The adventures of The Mighty Thor and The Avengers were early favorites of mine (subsequent interests in Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and my lifelong favorite, X-Men, would pique in later years); imagine my fascination when I realized that the tales of my favorite Avenger were based in the culture and religion of the ancient Scandinavian peoples.  I voraciously read as much Norse mythology as I could.


My months spent reading Norse myths and legends paved the way for an equally meaningful journey into Greco-Roman myths.  I loved reading about Zeus and the other Olympian gods, but the stories that really intrigued me were the tales of Hercules’ labors, Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece and Perseus’ battle with Medusa (the original Clash of the Titans film was a favorite of mine back then and remains so to this day).  I persuaded my mother to buy D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths and Edith Hamilton’s seminal text (though, of course, I would not realize this until much later), Mythology.


My experiences as a burgeoning reader were stymied by my middle school English class experiences.  While I had always enjoyed reading, English became my least favorite class in school!  Authoritarian grammarian teachers, forced texts containing little interest to me, and a difficulty expressing myself in words all factored into my disdain for the subject.  My classmates were another reason for my discomfort.  Gone were the close friends I had known in my elementary reading group (the “highest” in our particular grade level).  Granted, I did not know what tracking was back then. How was I to vocalize the stigma I felt upon viewing all of my fellow readers being put into Honors middle school  English and social studies classes, while I was “trapped” at Regents level.  Perhaps my writing wasn’t as developed as some of my reading group classmates, or perhaps I did not perform up to some requisite percentile level on standardized ELA (English Language Arts) tests.  Regardless of the cause, I was in effect relegated to classes which did not challenge me.  My schoolwork suffered, but more debilitating was the loss of interest I had in reading for pleasure.


In high school, my reading renaissance truly began.  In ninth grade, a woman by the name of Michele Krause taught English that year.  She was quirky, stern and, as I would later describe her, “a bitch.”  Fortunately, that year Ms. Krause taught Homer’s Odyssey.  Once again, I read about the Greek myths I loved as a child!  It was akin to discovering old friends one hadn’t seen for years and years.  I began to love reading again.


I remember some of the other works Ms. Krause taught that year.  “The Old Man and the Sea” and Romeo and Juliet were two of the memorable works from freshman English.  The power of Hemingway’s short, to-the-point sentences and the vivid, relatable characters of Shakespeare’s tragedy deepened my renewed appreciation for literature.


While my writing development was still precarious, I was able to develop a social outlet for my linguistic development: drama club.  I fell in love with the act of performing language for others.  This kinesthetic medium of language expression kept me tethered to the world of English Language Arts, despite the horrible experiences of middle school.  Before long, I was also attracted to another application for my developing language and critical thinking skills; model congress was another application for my verbal aptitudes.  Developing a cogent argument, while defending my position with evidence, was a skill that continues to benefit me as a graduate student.  My extra-curricular activities fostered my appreciation for reading and writing in new ways I had not known as a child.


Tenth and eleventh grade were difficult years socially and academically.  I began to notice the class differences among my peers and myself.  The students from more affluent homes were in Honors classes, while I was still doing Regents level work.  Fortunately, I as introduced to texts which increased my developing interest in social issues: To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, “Twelve Angry Men,” “The Crucible,” and The Great Gatsby.  All of these were memorable experiences for my developing literacy and social awareness.  I will never forget Lou Balbo and Elyse Weisman for providing these experiences.


I will also never forget Elyse Weisman for one other kindness; she recommended me to Honors English my senior year of high school.  Granted, many of my model congress and drama club friends were in AP English, but I wasn’t developmentally ready for college level work.  Honors English though, an anomalous class in the curriculum was a godsend for me!  That year of English class forever changed me as a student.  It also inspired me to become a teacher.


Imagine my shock when I discovered that Michele Krause, my ninth grade English teacher foil, was teaching English 12 Honors.  I am eternally grateful for this stroke of fate.  Ms. Krause later told me: “I dreaded what that year would bring…I should get so lucky every time I dread.”  We developed a rapport for teaching and learning in that class that year.  My writing improved drastically that year, and I began to see the connections between reading and writing.  Memorable works that year include: “The Importance of Being Earnest,” The Picture of Dorian Grey, Hamlet, The Canterbury Tales (in high school!), A Tale of Two Cities (I wrote my senior year author project on Dickens and his passion for social issues; I still remember this experience!) and Beowulf.  This course was great foundation for college study in English.  I will never forget Ms. Krause for challenging me as both a reader and a writer, nor will I forget her for believing in me as a person.


My Greenwich Village bookstore excursion caused me to reminisce about my personal literary journey.  It was apt timing for this literary narrative assignment.  I went back to BookBook on Bleecker Street a couple of weeks ago, while shopping for this semester’s course texts.  I purchased D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths, my childhood copy having since been long lost.  I cannot wait until a semester lull in academic dictates permits me to reread this captivating and significant work, which began my personal literary journey!


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Posted in Literacy Narrative.

2 Responses

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  1. Rachel Duso says

    I feel that all it takes is one special book that drags you in and you fall in love forever. Finding something to read that actually interests you is hard to do so when you find it you become buried and want to keep reading. That’ kind of what I love about college and getting to read all these amazing texts and finding new literature to love. The same way it takes a special teacher to reach out to you and guide you. Looking back we realize what these books and teachers did for us even if we didn’t notice it at the time.

  2. Kevin L. Ferguson says

    I love the idea of the “forgotten childhood book”! It’s like remembering a dream, or having deja vu–the feeling of transformed familiarity. That also seems to be a theme that reflects your early literary interests of myths and comic books–stories that are transformations of older, earlier ones. I wonder if that’s something that hasn’t really been accounted for with the concept of “sponsorship.” It seems like your story suggests that sponsorships might not “pay off” until years down the line. This would be an argument against standardized testing (the effects of teaching aren’t always apparent immediately, and might take years to be revealed), but also more evidence that the reappropriation of literacy sponsorships can be really unpredictable.