Reading: A Whole New World
by Lauren Kuhlman
Before bed every night, my dad would always read Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown to me. I would be tucked into my small twin-sized bed across from my sister as he would dim the lights and read. I still did not how to read the words yet, but the pictures and my father’s words were all I needed to understand the story. We would all say goodnight to everything within those pages countless times before I was finally tired enough to close my eyes and get some sleep.
Then, in my rest, my dreams would transport me to within those red, green, and yellow illustrations. It would be like I was truly there in that room. I would play around in the room: looking at and memorizing all the strange objects within those green walls. Here, was the first time I learned how reading could take someone to another world.
As I aged into grade school, I no longer wanted to read the silly little picture books that I claimed my parents read too slowly. I was moving on to bigger and better things. No more childish toys, no more imaginary friends, no more Santa Claus, and I even started calling my parents ‘mom and dad’ rather than ‘mommy and daddy’. Goodnight Moon, the book that had once helped me sleep for so many nights, found itself permanently stuck on my bookshelf, wedged between other souvenirs of my childhood that I was quickly outgrowing. The pages that I had once flipped through so adoringly, had become old and tattered. The bright colors of the pages that had once felt so animated and magical, now seemed dull and faded. I was growing up, and no longer wanted to be transported to those now boring green walls within Goodnight Moon.
However, I now turned to books without those fun colors and repetitive lines. My grade school library was filled with books like these. These were books with lots of thin pages and small fonts—books with chapter titles and the potential threat of a paper cut. Gone were the days of pages with detailed pictures and a few words. Now, the only pictures were the ones on the cover with the title. I enjoyed these new books by myself, without my dad turning and reading each page with me.
I learned that these ‘big kid’ books had a new sense of magic in them. This magic was different than that comforting warmth I had received nightly from Goodnight Moon. This magic was that of new adventures and new characters. I found myself getting lost in the beauty of The Magic Treehouse, where the protagonists always ended up in strange places throughout time. I could read so intently that it seemed as if I was right next to the brother and sister duo as they travelled from place to place. Every time the treehouse would start spinning, it was like I was there too sitting on the hard wooden floor next to them. Each time I finished a Magic Treehouse book, I would be desperately searching for the next one wondering where I would be transported to next. Before I even finished the whole Magic Treehouse series, I was books deep in the Harry Potter series, amazed at how J.K. Rowling could create a whole new wizardly realm from just pages in a book. I would be hanging on the edge of my seat, hoping Harry and his friends would finally defeat Voldemort. After my trip to Hogwarts, I would be hanging out with my demigod friends in the Percy Jackson series, in awe of the unique, amazing powers they carried and the obstacles they overcame.
All of these books had amazing adventures deep within them, waiting for evil to be conquered. There were no pictures in these books, but still, they transported me into new worlds filled with vivid imagery that kept me amazed and enchanted. I could see the text like it was a movie in my head, I could laugh at the comedic parts like I was there on the scene, and I could feel the emotions and stress like I too was the protagonist. I realized that these stories with their long and detailed chapters carried so much more weight because they allow the characters to develop and the plot to unfold. These books shaped me into who I am today. Their words taught me plenty of new vocabulary. Their funny lines taught me my witty, sarcastic humor. Their adventurous characters taught me the true importance of being myself.
However, upon entering high school, I realized I could not hide in my imaginary story lands forever. My new school schedule did not allow me to spend days on days reading a long book series. I was busy making new friends, playing new varsity sports, and learning new concepts. I spent much of my time trying to better understand chemistry and geometry, something the characters in my books never seemed to divulge much time to. My characters were busy living dangerously in important situations while I sat in the back of a classroom sharpening my pencils. Much of my high school life was spent rooted in reality as I no longer had the time to transport into those unrealistic adventures.
Besides the countless number of textbooks I had stocked up throughout my years in high school, the only literary books I had in my life were the ones I was forced to annotate every night for my English homework. My library shelf shifted from being full of fantastical stories with elaborate covers to now being stacked with books stamped with names like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Toni Morrison. Books with words that people haven’t said in decades were structured into sentences that people haven’t used in what seemed like centuries. While the words on these pages seemed ancient, the messages were timeless and universal. In Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, I was transported into the French Revolution, but this time it was not like how The Magic Treehouse used to transport me when I was a child. This time, I read the detailed life of common people doing common tasks. However, I got to watch those seemingly common people develop through dramatic characterization and I got to witness those seemingly common tasks build and build up into bigger plot points. Dickens was able to reveal to me the deep duality of man and the duality of society was revealed to me in chilling ways. This story which I never would have thought to be exciting left me shocked with plot twists.
Literature took on new forms now, ranging from short sonnets to deep plays, and offered perspectives that I had never thought I would be able to understand. These new pieces were often filled with deep themes of justice, power, and greed. The adventures these characters went on were a lot less magical, but a lot more moving. They taught me about society and of real-world issues like racism that were engrained into our world. When reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, I got to better understand the perspective of a young black man during the civil rights movement. I was constantly impressed by how these books intertwined symbolism and foreshadowing into their stories. They taught me the beauty of intricacy and how to appreciate art. They taught me how to better understand and interpret people. Most importantly, they taught me how to look past a seemingly boring exterior and find excitement.
Growing up, I am starting to appreciate all of the books I have encountered and how they have helped me throughout my years. I look back comfortingly at Goodnight Moon, as it reminds me of the days of my innocent childhood. The days when I relied on my parents to hold my hand and guide me on adventures. I recall The Magic Treehouse, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson series with a sense of longing nostalgia for my younger excited self who believed I could handle even the most extreme of adventures. I associate those books with the days when I still believed that all evil could be conquered by those who are good no matter what. I remember those characters for the witty jokes they would crack and how they always stayed optimistic no matter what obstacle needed to be conquered. I also respect how the classical books of my English class have shaped me and how they taught me deep thematic ideas. The Invisible Man left me enlightened on how the world can be a truly harsh place. On the other hand, A Tale of Two Cities taught me how to find adventure in the seemingly plain, which is something I need to carry into my own life. While my life today is not filled with magic treehouses, castles, and superpowers, I am still living an amazing story that I can find exciting.
Lauren Kuhlman is a first-year Biological Sciences student at the University of Cincinnati. She is passionate about both ecology and dentistry. However, she has always loved reading and is glad to share her love of it in this personal essay.
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