January 2019 hit hard. Winter weather and the government shutdown were driving my mad scientist husband stir crazy. So we unboxed the thousand piece jigsaw puzzle I had brought home from a holiday gift swap. It was titled Readers Paradise, lovingly illustrated by fellow Photoshop enthusiast Aimee Stewart of foxfires.com. As the image of a used book shop took shape on our dining room table, some of the inventory looked familiar.
I checked our shelves. Sure enough, there was the dramatic Art Nouveau swoosh of the Snow Queen’s sleigh. The princess from The Red Fairy Book in her serpentine pink scarf. An Old Fashioned Girl. Under the Lilacs. All bore the same inscription: To Gloria (my mother’s name) 1945 —from Miss Kohout & class 4A.
Now I was curious. What happened in 1945?
I phoned my mom.
“What do you remember about fourth grade?”
She thought back. “That must have been the year I had polio. The school sent a tutor to our house.”
My mom did not grow up in a book-loving family. But Miss Kohout’s gifts turned her into an avid reader. She went on to become the first person in her family to attend college. Now in her eighties, she still makes regular use of the local library.
Flash forward to another winter. I was eight years old, stuck at home with bronchitis. After staring at too many TV game shows I decided to tackle my mom’s old classics. At first she told me I was too young. I insisted. She gave in. I started with Anderson’s Fairy Tales. The leap from Dr. Seuss to those hefty volumes was no small challenge (this was the era before illustrated chapter books and graphic novels). The Frederick Richardson color plates became my oases as I slogged through the yellowed pages of dense text. By the final sentence I was hooked.
So this Thanksgiving season, here’s a shoutout to teachers like Miss Kohout, my mom, and countless others who passed on the gift of reading. Because a good story and pictures can transform the bleakest day into paradise.