Reading EnvironmentHow to Raise a Reader

How a banana chair created the perfect reading nook

July 11, 2018
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What do you get when you cross a banana chair and a small English library in a foreign country?

I read my first chapter book sitting in a banana chair. You know the curved ones that sit right on the ground so you can rock back and forth? It wasn’t that the chair made reading easier or anything, but there was something about that banana chair that said, “this chair is for leisure reading.”

The banana chair was a gift from one of my aunts. Looking back now, a banana chair seems a little unusual for a gift, but as kids we thought it was super cool. Again, as an adult, I don’t understand why. Banana chairs are pretty narrow, and there’s not always tons of cushion. But then again, I don’t know why I used to love Spaghettios either.

By the time we had our banana chair I was five, and just getting into my first chapter books. I still remember my very first one, Mr. Apple’s Family. It’s all about Mr. Apple and his many children–each named after an Apple. But it’s not story that makes me remember, it’s the feeling.

At that time, my family was living in the Dominican Republic. There was a tiny English library near our home in Santo Domingo. We didn’t have TV, and electricity was spotty anyway, so reading became a favorite hobby. The banana chair sat in our study room where our mom taught us home school, and on hot, sweaty days, you’d find me and a couple siblings quietly tucked away in different corners of the room reading for an hour or more at a time. Always, one of us was in the banana chair.

We visited the library once every two weeks or so to exchange books. My parents would say that it was a dingy little library, but to my 5-year-old self, the library was huge. I’ll never forget looking up at the books stacked to the ceiling on white shelves.

Now, back to that feeling I was talking about.

I don’t think most people vividly remember picking out their first chapter book, but I do. Why? Because it was a big deal. I was immensely proud of myself. Proud that I could sound out words. Proud that I was “big” enough to read whole sentences. Proud that I could do so much more than just look at the pictures and wait for someone else to read to me. Now reading was my own–I didn’t have to wait for anybody to read to me. I was empowered.

So whether that little English library was frumpy or not, I’ll remember it forever. I’ll remember that my dad loved reading Tom Clancy books like The Hunt for Red October. I’ll remember how those books were way up high on the tallest shelves near the door. I’ll remember the full row of Hardy Boys adventure books–the books that became my brother Kesler’s and my favorites before long. I’ll remember the Louis L’amour cowboy books my brother Chandler read there. And I’ll remember that silly banana chair.

I’ll remember all that, because I’ll remember the feeling.

I’m curious to hear about your own early reading experiences. Do you remember your first chapter book? Or a favorite reading room or chair? Leave a comment below!

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