Candice Ransom: Being Ten

Ivy Honeysuckle coverEvery sum­mer I wish I was ten again, the per­fect age for the per­fect sea­son. At that age I was at the height of my child­hood pow­ers. And as a read­er, books couldn’t be thrust into my hands fast enough.

Every morn­ing I’d eat a bowl of Rice Krispies, with my book at the table (my moth­er wouldn’t let me do this at sup­per, though I often kept my library book open on the seat of the next chair). Then I’d go out to my tree house to watch birds and read the day into being. What­ev­er I was read­ing — fic­tion or non­fic­tion — shaped my dai­ly expe­ri­ences. I longed to live in books.

At ten, I had mas­tered writ­ing and draw­ing to the degree that I was com­fort­able mov­ing back and forth between words and images. With pen­cil, paper, and crayons, I could slip into the world beyond the print­ed page. I “con­tin­ued” the sto­ry in the book, or drew pic­tures, some­times copy­ing the illus­tra­tions. I loved the reck­less, sketchy lines of Beth and Joe Krush’s draw­ings in The Bor­row­ers. And I drew pre­cise, tiny black cats, like the ones Superstitious coverErik Bleg­vad often includ­ed in books he illus­trat­ed, like The Dia­mond in the Win­dow, and Super­sti­tious? Here’s Why?

Books led my ten-year-old self to places beyond my small Vir­ginia land­scape. In The Talk­ing Tree, a nov­el about Pacif­ic North­west Native Amer­i­cans, I was des­per­ate to make my own totem pole. I glued three emp­ty thread spools togeth­er and tried to etch a styl­ized raven, wolf, and beaver with the point­ed end of a nail file that kept skid­ding off the smooth wood­en surface.

My cousins got roped into act­ing out a Nan­cy Drew sto­ry. After read­ing The Mys­tery of the Lean­ing Chim­ney, I buried my mother’s Japan­ese sake cup, brought back by my uncle dur­ing WWII, in our back yard. When my cousins rolled up, I ran to meet their sta­tion wagon.

Mama’s valu­able for­eign vase has been stolen!” I exclaimed, show­ing the boys the sin­is­ter-sound­ing note I’d written.

Aw, you wrote that,” Eugene said, rec­og­niz­ing my handwriting.

Pumpkin Day coverNo, real­ly, it’s from the vase steal­er!” I was shocked at his unwill­ing­ness to sus­pend dis­be­lief, but unde­terred. I dragged them all over the yard, dig­ging holes until I “stum­bled” on the buried cup.

What made that sum­mer spe­cial was the free­dom to read. I read dur­ing the school year, of course, and even in class when I was sup­posed to be work­ing on frac­tions, but plea­sure read­ing time was squished to week­end after­noons and bed­time. Sum­mer, how­ev­er, was one Great Big Read­ing Fest.

Best of all, I wasn’t hob­bled by a sum­mer read­ing list. I grew up in an era in which teach­ers turned kids loose in June, glad not to clap eyes on them again until after Labor Day. Now many ele­men­tary schools ask stu­dents to read to pre­vent “Sum­mer Slide.” The ran­dom lists I checked offer a wide vari­ety of books in a range of read­ing lev­els. But the read­ing list noose tight­ens in mid­dle and high schools. Stu­dents are often required to read from a more spe­cif­ic list and write a paper.

In her recent Wash­ing­ton Post piece, edu­ca­tor Michelle Rhee admits her own child­hood dis­like of sum­mer read­ing lists that includ­ed such titles as Anne of Green Gables and oth­er books she trudged through with lit­tle inter­est. As a teacher, and lat­er as chan­cel­lor of D.C. Pub­lic Schools, she rec­og­nized the val­ue of sum­mer read­ing pro­grams. But she also believes stu­dents should choose their own books.

A few weeks ago, I wan­dered the non­fic­tion children’s sec­tion in our pub­lic library. A boy around ten sat cross-legged on the floor, a book on heli­copters open in his lap. I guessed he had pulled the book from the shelf and plunked right down to read it.

Mom!” he said. “You have to see this! It’s the most amaz­ing thing in the world!”

Yes, I agreed silent­ly. It is the most amaz­ing thing in the world to watch a child just the right age fall into a book of his choice. I hoped he would keep that glo­ri­ous part of his self always. Let books con­tin­ue to guide him, pull him in, shape his day.




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David LaRochelle
8 years ago

Sum­mer read­ing, at age 10, WAS the best, Can­dice! I always looked for­ward to the sum­mer read­ing pro­gram at our pub­lic library, and keep­ing track of all the books I read on my sum­mer reach­ing chart (excit­ed for each stamp or star I got on my chart for every book I read). Peanuts col­lec­tion by Charles Shulz, sto­ries of mag­ic by E. Nes­bit, C. S. Lewis, and Edgar Eager, and any sort of craft book were what filled my sum­mer days and evenings of read­ing. Thanks for the reminder of that won­der­ful time.