By Michelle King

I hated reading. Kindergarten was a nightmare. When we all got into our reading groups that consisted of red, blue, green, and yellow, and I fell into the group that everybody knew as the bad readers: the yellow group. While all my friends would go off into the blue and green groups with their plastic fold-up books about the cat Cal, I sauntered to the smallest table and learned how to sound out the word cat.
First grade followed with 37 days of being tardy. Reasons why included incessant crying, locking myself in my room, “falling asleep,” and snuffling. There was only one reason I would go to these lengths. First grade was the year of reading. However, first grade was also the year my sister Desi discovered Harry Potter. While Desi read, I sang, kicked her mattress­—we had bunk beds—and would shout, “I’m not listening!” over and over again.
When Christmas time came, my grandpa invited us to his house for Christmas Eve where we would feast, dance, and open one present. I picked out the one from my grandpa and tore through the reindeer wrapping only to hold a book in my hand. Then he picked me up and sat me down on his lap, and explained the importance of the book in my hands.
Eric Knight’s Lassie Come Home was the first chapter book my grandfather ever read. On the inside he wrote in his hard-to-read scribbled cursive, “To Michelle, with love, From Grandpa, May you always love this story as I have.” My love for my grandpa triumphed over my hatred for reading and I decided to actually read this book. I loved it. It was the happiest day of my life when I read “You’re my Lassie come-home,” and closed the 248-page hardbound book.
I thought “If I can read Lassie, I can read Where the Red Fern Grows!” and “If I can read Where the Red Fern Grows, then I can read Harry Potter!” When the reading groups came, I quickly went to the red, then blue, and then green. I was finally at the top. I was reading books more than I was watching television.
I hunted through my sister’s bookshelves, thirsty for words. I even read the Medical Encyclopedia from 1976 that was collecting dust from my mom’s bookshelf. I could name 20 different spells from Harry Potter, recite six of my favorite Shel Silverstein poems, tell you why Princess Mimi really was the meanest doll in the world, and give you three different reasons for irregular heart palpations.
No longer was I dreading school, but anticipating the arrival of a new year. Reading made me want to travel, meet new people, experience the thrill of my own adventures. And above all, reading made me want to write. Nature writer, Annie Dillard explained these feelings. She said, “What I sought in books was imagination. It was depth of thought and feeling: some sort of extreme subject of matter; some nearness of death; some call of courage. I myself was getting wild; I wanted wildness, originality, genius, rapture, hope. I wanted strength not tea parties.”
Books, stories, and words are our history. Whether you see, hear, or feel these stories, literature coaxes our imaginations into the open where we see our life as a story. We can control the story we become.