Reading didn’t make sense to me. I stared at the words on the page struggling to sound out each letter and guessing what the combinations of sounds could possible mean. My eight year old peers flipped through the pages of their books while I tried to remember what sound H made when it followed the letter T. The word that gave me the most trouble was “of.” No one could explain to me why the F sounded like a V – it all seemed to arbitrary. I could remember that the F was supposed to sound like a different letter but I couldn’t remember which one. Sometimes I’d think it was a T or a P so I’d pronounce “of” like Aught or Up. I remember sounding out the title Anne up Green Gables to my class only to be met by ferocious giggles.
Since it took me a few minutes to make sense of a sentence, I often gave up and refused to read. However, that didn’t stop me from taking out books at our weekly class trip to the library. In third grade it was considered cool to like books, so I made sure to always have a book in my hand even if its contents were like a foreign language to me.
One day I noticed a pretty shade of yellow on the library’s shelf. I pulled out the book and was immediately enamored with the drawing on the cover. The girl was sitting with a book in her lap, seeming to have difficulty reading.
I checked out the library’s copy of Roald Dahl’s Matilda and immediately took it outside to sit on the park bench and pretend to read it. The illustrations drew me in. I quickly learned from the drawings that the girl actually loved reading. There were strange scenes with a hefty woman who always seemed angry, objects floating in the air, and a sweet looking woman who drank tea with Matilda. The drawings intrigued me so much, that I forced myself to decipher the words.
After an hour on the bench I was five pages into the book and captivated. On the school bus home I read another page. I was noticing that some of the words were used a lot and it was getting easier to recognize them. By that evening, as I read through the next chapter, I could skip the whole sounding out process for words like “the”, “on”, and “and.”
During class the next day I kept my copy of Matilda open on my lap under the desk. I stole glimpses of the words while my teacher taught the multiplication table. I needed to know what happened after Matilda put super glue in her father’s hat and I needed to know how Matilda caused the television to explode. I worked my way through another chapter during lunch. When I placed my bookmark to save my page I stared in disbelief. I was half an inch into a book. Half an inch of pages filled with words that I had successfully decoded. And I didn’t even have a headache!
That night, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate because that’s what Matilda did when she read. I read about the mean Miss Trunchbull, throwing kids like baseballs. I read about the FBI agents investigating Matilda’s father for his shady used car business. I read about Miss Honey’s sad past. What intrigued me the most was that Matilda had telekinetic powers. Her brain was so developed that she could move things just by thinking hard enough!
By page one hundred I was convinced that if I could become an avid reader like Matilda, I, too, could have magical powers.
As soon as I finished Matilda I went to the library and took out every book by Roald Dahl. I poured over James and The Giant Peach (to this day I think of this book whenever I take a bath), The Witches, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and The BFG. I couldn’t believe that I was able to see the scenes in these books with greater detail and vividness than any movie or t.v. show. I thought about the characters for days after I finished the book, wondering what they were doing now that their stories were done. Each book became easier to read. In the span of a month I went from not being able to read to winning an award from my teacher for being a “super reader.”
Matilda changed me forever. It taught me that hard work paid off. It taught me that I could take as much time as I needed – the words would still be there for me when I was ready to make sense of them. It taught that I wasn’t stupid, I just needed to get over a hurdle before I could run.
Since that day in the library when I picked out Matilda for its pretty yellow cover, I’ve never been without a book in hand. I’ve come a long way from not being able to read the word “of.” In the back of my mind, a part of me thinks that my telekinetic powers will form some day if I keep reading, but the truth is reading is already magical. I don’t need to be able to move spoons with my mind when I can create worlds instead.