Contributor Lori Castner – When My Sisters Read

As a child, I loved print books partly because of their fragrance and texture, but mostly because family members read them to me.

If my sister Alice read at bedtime, I heard either Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” or “The Ugly Duckling.” Every time I heard the story of the vain emperor, I imagined the tailors sewing, moving their needles up and down through thin air not through folds of sumptuous fabric, and I laughed at the throng of flatterers who praised his beautiful suit as the ruler moved suitless before the crowds. And no matter how often we listened to this story, my sister Linda and I snickered as it ended and we learned that he wore no clothes, and we repeated in unison, “He was naked, naked, naked.” Then we laughed knowingly suspecting that this emperor somehow appeared in a way that was naughty rather than just silly.

When we heard “The Ugly Duckling,” we responded more quietly, enthralled that an ugly, lonely creature could become a symbol of beauty, and without comprehending my feelings, I probably longed for a day when I would overcome shyness.

When my sister Marianne read to us at bedtime, I heard either Richard Scarry’s “The Animals of Farmer Jones” or Munro Leaf’s “Story Of Ferdinand The Bull.” She read with great animation, reciting over and over the line “Where is Farmer Jones?” She always drew out the word “where” so that it sounded for at least five seconds. I never understood how a dutiful farmer could forget to feed his pigs, sheep, cows, dog and cat. But when he returned unerringly home to complete his chores, each animal said “Thank you, Farmer Jones” with fervent gratitude. I would have angrily kicked over my bucket of food then leapt the fence to find a better home.

Each time she read about the peaceful bull who preferred flowers to fighting, she emphasized the words “picadors” and “matadors,” and Linda and I laughed at the bull who became angry only when he received a bee sting while sniffing beautiful blooms. Marianne always read slowly and gently the concluding line of the story, “For all I know he is sitting there still, under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly.” And with every retelling, we laughed, but failed to sympathize with the pain inflicted by the picadors or to comprehend the cruelty of bullfighting.

The predictability of my sisters’ story selections and reading styles brought a sense of peace to bedtime, created a bond between me and my much-older siblings, and began my love of reading.

What started your love of reading and stories? Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

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