Guest Post: Reading Readiness in the Fifties

Hello everyone! Eva here. When Katje sent me her story of how she came to be a reader, I responded with this. She asked if I wanted it to be my inaugural guest post here on Barefoot in Langley, and of course I said yes!

Book cover for Je Taimerai Toujours.Isn’t it funny, what we forget and remember? I had forgotten about Danny and the Dinosaur until Katje reminded me. I do remember how much she loved bedtime stories, especially Je t’Aimerais Toujours, which I sang to her.

I wasn’t so lucky. My father was an ex-teacher with quirky ideas. My mother was an obedient wife. I did not know this for about four decades, but he forbade my mother to teach me to read, so that I would not feel out of place with my fellow students when finally, at age six, I would be allowed to go to school. Like Katje, I was a child with early reading readiness. For some kids, that doesn’t happen until age seven but for us it came early. Unhappily for me, the doors to reading remained shut for three or four interminable years.

There weren’t many children’s books in the Fifties. My mother did not read to me before bed. Mornings, I would ask for a pencil and scribbler and invent writing for myself, wondering what the key to reading looked like. On weekends, when the color funnies came, I would sit with arms fixed wide, fingers clutching the edges of the storied pages, trying to break the code until my head ached. Surely there was a story attached to those pictures which would give me a clue!

When I was five, my mother was asked to translate for a Dutch immigrant family whose children needed to be enrolled in Donald Ross School, Edmonton. My best friend, Jean-Charles, was entering school too and I was green with jealousy. As my mother put my little sister into the stroller, I begged her, “Please, Mam, ask if I can go to school, too!” I want to believe she promised, but probably not. Off we trudged, the immigrant lot of us, the “Dirty DPs” (Displaced Persons). The principal’s desk came up to my nose and he looked enormous, hulking on its far side. As I heard the conversation drawing to a close, I jiggled my mother’s arm and whispered, “Ask him! Please!” Shame-faced, my mother related my outrageous request.

“How old is she?” he barked.

“She was five in June,” my mother quavered.

“No!” It was the first rejection of my life.

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