Thursday, March 28, 2013

That Illuminating Big Word...

Illustration by: thanunkorn/
Does anybody remember when they actually learned to read...? That pivotal moment when  the world of books opened up to the magical realms of endless pages?

Maybe I'm lucky, but I remember that exact moment. It changed my young life.

I was in grade one, and I had a fantastic teacher named Miss Nora MacNeil. She was a dedicated woman, so loving and encouraging--a stellar example of professionalism and sweetness. I loved her dearly and still wonder to this day how she is.

I did really well in her class, especially in phonics. The fundamentals came naturally to me, and she never failed to gently push my limits.

We started with Mr. Mugs, remember him? The cute cartoon sheepdog? He was right up there with 'See Spot Run', and I went through that series quickly. So she challenged me.

She gave me a new series...something to do with a girl and her horse. (My publisher's company is named after a horse. Sign of things to come?) I don't remember the name of the girl, the horse or any of the books.

I remember THE WORD.

My mother sat with me, night after night, coaxing me to sound out the vowels and syllables. Most of them were reasonably easy. I just sounded them out.

Then came a word I'd never seen before. It was the longest one I'd ever tried to read. I was intimidated, but determined. After all, I liked reading, and I wanted to be good at it. Not just for me, but for my family and Miss MacNeil.

"Use your phonics," my mother said. "You can do it." There were two syllables, but three phonetic compounds to concentrate on. The first two I didn't have much trouble with--I knew what they meant and what they sounded like. The third one...trickier, but I knew it was supposed to say it almost  like 'Yite' when I read it...


My mother's reaction was explosive. "Way to gooooo!" She squeezed me hard and gave me a smacking kiss on the top of my head. She was incredulous. "That's a big word for a five year old!"

I giggled, but my eyes were transfixed. All the words ceased to be a bunch of vowel sounds and syllables. I understood them ALL. They were real! And I could really READ! I couldn't wait to tell Miss MacNeil!

The good news is, at the end of the year, I got an award and a gift for reading more books than the rest of the class. I got a homemade card from my beautiful teacher and a record/book called "The Tawny Scrawny Lion."  It would signal when to turn the page by the lion saying "Rrrrowr!"

The bad news is, I took to reading the ingredient lists on my morning cereal to become a better reader. My mistake. My proud mother decided that if I couldn't pronounce it, my sister and I shouldn't be eating it. Goodbye Frosted Flakes, hello Puffed Wheat. Oh, well...

Does anyone else have a story like this? I can't be the only one. If so I'd love to see it in the comments below!


  1. I don't remember the word, but the book: "Humm, the Singing Hamster." I brought it in to show my wonderful kindergarten teacher, Miss Salem, what I could do--and she let me read it to the class!

    1. That's awesome Mj! I'm going to have to look that one up now.What could be cuter that a singing hamster?