Miracles Happen at the Talbot County Free Library
by Bill Peak
I was a slow learner as a child. Indeed, I was slow at pretty much
everything. The elementary school I attended stood just a block away
from my house, yet it seemed an almost impossible task for me to get
there before the tardy bell rang. My first grade class occupied the
front of the building, and I can remember my teacher, Miss Steubling,
leaning out one of the classroom windows to chivvy me along as I
hurried down the sidewalk beneath her, the bell braying loudly,
announcing to the world at large that, once again, little Will Peak
was late for school.
All the children in my class, except me, had learned their ABCs in
kindergarten. I hadn't gone to kindergarten. I can remember sitting
at my desk with its oil-cloth cover (secured by elastic straps sewn
into place by my mother), and trying, and failing, to remember the
names for each of the funny-looking figures that ran like a frieze
above the blackboards around our room. The rest of the children in my
class would merrily sing out the alphabet song as though it were the
easiest thing in the world, while I sat frozen in my seat, mute and
It began to dawn on me that I must be dumb. Though I knew they loved
me too much to ever say so, my face burned at the thought of the shame
my parents would feel when they finally faced this fact. It was an
awful realization for someone still a month away from turning 6.
And then, of course, the day came when Miss Steubling began writing
the funny-looking figures on the blackboard, placing them together in
sets of two, three, and four, and claiming these arrangements
constituted words. She told us some of the figures were vowels and
the rest consonants, that when two vowels went walking, the first one
did the talking. I would have thought her mad if all the other
children hadn't nodded so agreeably at this nugget. Then she gave us
our first primers.
We were quickly sorted into three reading groups based upon our
abilities. I remember the names of the best and second-best readers'
groups, the bluebirds and the redbirds, but the name given the poorest
readers' group, the one I was placed in, escapes me now. The pigeons?
The grackles? Surely Miss Steubling came up with some
inoffensive-sounding title, but those of us who sat in that little
circle knew that, whatever our name, we were, in fact, losers.
Truth be told, reading is still a great mystery to me. Oh, I
eventually caught on. I remember that, when I finally made the
connection between groups of letters and the words they stood for, I
couldn't stop reciting the resulting spells. When we went for drives
in the country, I would trumpet an unending series of the only road
signs out there: “Do Not Pass … Pass With Care … Do Not Pass … Pass
With Care”—my poor parents pretending to be pleased while, I'm sure,
gritting their teeth at the approach of each and every sign.
Still, to this day, when I think about what our minds accomplish when
we look at this newspaper page covered with little black marks, the
way it turns them into pictures, a story: a country lane, traffic
signs passing by rhythmically, a little boy blissfully reading them
aloud, Mom and Dad smiling stoically at the road ahead … well, if that
doesn't constitute a miracle, I don't know what does.
Today is July 3, which means the Talbot County Free Library's Summer
Reading Program has been in full swing for over a month now, and still
has another month to go. Studies have shown that children who don't
read during the summer lose as much as two months' worth of the
reading skills they developed during the school year, a phenomenon
known to educators as “Summer Slide.” What's worse is that these
losses can build up over succeeding summers to affect not just a
child's reading skills but his or her self-confidence as well. The
good news is that just two or three hours of reading a week during the
summer is all that it takes to sustain and even improve upon the
skills children acquired during the previous academic year.
The Talbot County Free Library's Summer Reading Program, with its
games and prizes, gives children a reason to develop habits of reading
that will carry them successfully through the coming school year …
and, hopefully, the rest of their lives. So if you know a child who
hasn't signed up yet, please get them down to the library as quickly
as possible and enroll them in the program. Think of all the miracles
of imagination and thought you will help to create.