I really love Gertrude Chandler Warner. She got me reading, just like she got so many other children reading.
Gertrude Chandler Warner was a self-taught first grade teacher. She never even finished high school, because of frequent illnesses. And then during WWI when all the men were gone, her town asked her to teach first grade simply because she was already teaching Sunday School and there was no one else. 6 years after that, while stuck at home recovering from bronchitis, she wrote a book about children living in a boxcar because when she was a child, she always thought that would be fun (her family home was across from a rail line). 18 years later, she revised the book to include only 600 words that were suggested for first grade readers. Instead of reading about Dick and Jane and boring things like that, first graders (like the ones Warner taught) could now learn how to read from a book with a real plot and conflict and adventures.
Warner continued teaching and did not turn back to writing until after she retired, preferring to focus on the flesh and blood children in front of her rather than the ones in her imagination. After retirement, she wrote 19 more Boxcar Children books, all of them extremely popular. Fame and success did not change her life, she continued to live in her home town first with her parents, then in a small house she purchased. She volunteered with the local Red Cross and cancer society. And she formed a household with another older woman, a retired nurse.
Warner lived this small retiring life, and yet her influence was enormous and continues to this day. In 1990, 11 years after she died and 66 years after she first wrote The Boxcar Children, I was a little girl in first grade struggling to learn how to read. I hated it, the teacher was having us sound things out and that didn’t work for me at all, all the letters felt jumbled when I looked at them, and I got scared every time we did “read aloud” time in class that she would call on me. And then one day I was a little sick and had to stay home from school, my Mom had to go to a job interview and to keep me quiet and entertained while she was in the interview, she gave me her old falling apart copy of The Boxcar Children. I really struggled with the first few pages, but I could sort of recognize the shape of the words I’d already been taught. And then about 6 pages in, I got entranced by the story, so caught up that I forgot to worry about sounding things out and reading the “right” way, and I just read.
What was that book for you? The first one you remember just reading, all on your own? Was it The Boxcar Children also? Or something else?