Home > About > Bill Peak's Library Column > Miracles Happen at the Talbot County Free Library
I was a slow learner as a child. Indeed, I was slow at pretty much everything. The elementary school I attended stood just a block away from my house, yet it seemed an almost impossible task for me to get there before the tardy bell rang. My first grade class occupied the front of the building, and I can remember my teacher, Miss Steubling, leaning out one of the classroom windows to chivvy me along as I hurried down the sidewalk beneath her, the bell braying loudly, announcing to the world at large that, once again, little Will Peak was late for school.
All the children in my class, except me, had learned their ABCs in kindergarten. I hadn't gone to kindergarten. I can remember sitting at my desk with its oil-cloth cover (secured by elastic straps sewn into place by my mother), and trying, and failing, to remember the names for each of the funny-looking figures that ran like a frieze above the blackboards around our room. The rest of the children in my class would merrily sing out the alphabet song as though it were the easiest thing in the world, while I sat frozen in my seat, mute and uncomprehending.
It began to dawn on me that I must be dumb. Though I knew they loved me too much to ever say so, my face burned at the thought of the shame my parents would feel when they finally faced this fact. It was an awful realization for someone still a month away from turning 6.
And then, of course, the day came when Miss Steubling began writing the funny-looking figures on the blackboard, placing them together in sets of two, three, and four, and claiming these arrangements constituted words. She told us some of the figures were vowels and the rest consonants, that when two vowels went walking, the first one did the talking. I would have thought her mad if all the other children hadn't nodded so agreeably at this nugget. Then she gave us our first primers.
We were quickly sorted into three reading groups based upon our abilities. I remember the names of the best and second-best readers' groups, the bluebirds and the redbirds, but the name given the poorest readers' group, the one I was placed in, escapes me now. The pigeons? The grackles? Surely Miss Steubling came up with some inoffensive-sounding title, but those of us who sat in that little circle knew that, whatever our name, we were, in fact, losers.
Truth be told, reading is still a great mystery to me. Oh, I eventually caught on. I remember that, when I finally made the connection between groups of letters and the words they stood for, I couldn't stop reciting the resulting spells. When we went for drives in the country, I would trumpet an unending series of the only road signs out there: “Do Not Pass … Pass With Care … Do Not Pass … Pass With Care”—my poor parents pretending to be pleased while, I'm sure, gritting their teeth at the approach of each and every sign.
Still, to this day, when I think about what our minds accomplish when we look at this newspaper page covered with little black marks, the way it turns them into pictures, a story: a country lane, traffic signs passing by rhythmically, a little boy blissfully reading them aloud, Mom and Dad smiling stoically at the road ahead … well, if that doesn't constitute a miracle, I don't know what does.
Today is July 3, which means the Talbot County Free Library's Summer Reading Program has been in full swing for over a month now, and still has another month to go. Studies have shown that children who don't read during the summer lose as much as two months' worth of the reading skills they developed during the school year, a phenomenon known to educators as “Summer Slide.” What's worse is that these losses can build up over succeeding summers to affect not just a child's reading skills but his or her self-confidence as well. The good news is that just two or three hours of reading a week during the summer is all that it takes to sustain and even improve upon the skills children acquired during the previous academic year.
The Talbot County Free Library's Summer Reading Program, with its games and prizes, gives children a reason to develop habits of reading that will carry them successfully through the coming school year … and, hopefully, the rest of their lives. So if you know a child who hasn't signed up yet, please get them down to the library as quickly as possible and enroll them in the program. Think of all the miracles of imagination and thought you will help to create.
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