The Seven Stages of My Reading Life So Far

Part 5: Mother


Lauren Baratz-Logsted

No one was more surprised than me to find myself pregnant in spring of 1999, except for maybe my husband. It was a good thing, but I’d long given up on the idea and thus was wholly unprepared for the experience. So what did I do? I started reading books.

It would be easy to claim that What to Expect When You’re Expecting was the most terrifying book I read during that time period, what with all its many illuminated pitfalls of what could go wrong or what I could do wrong, but such was not the case. The most terrifying book was a novel Publishers Weekly assigned me to review in my seventh month of pregnancy, Saul by Rosemary Kay.

Saul, based on the author’s own experience, is told from the point of view of the eponymous hero, born weighing 1 lb. 4 oz. at twenty-three weeks. Few babies survive such an early birth and if memory serves correctly, the author’s own baby was born at twenty-two weeks at a time when no babies that young survived. The book details Saul’s baby’s-eye-view of his four months of life, all set in a hospital. It’s a tragic and beautifully written story and I said as much in my review. I also cried through pretty much the whole thing and was still crying when I called PW on the phone to say, “Do you not remember me telling you I’m pregnant? Was there no one else you could assign this to?”

If I was doomed to become a reader by virtue of the family I was born into, my daughter was equally doomed. One thing What to Expect impressed on me was the importance of talking to one’s baby as much as possible to encourage language acquisition and that it’s best to start this practice in utero. This presented a problem for me because I’m something of a solitary person, preferring to speak only when there’s actually something to say. Making small talk with the baby growing inside me was awkward at best. But one thing I could do was read, out loud. So I began reading Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past to the baby inside me and once Jackie was safely out in the world I switched over to Letters to the Editor from the New York Times. I don’t know how much language she acquired through all this, but I did accents and she was amused.

From the beginning, my husband or I would lie on our backs next to her on the floor, holding books overhead so she could look at the pages as we read. By the time she became interested in story, some favorites included Peggy Rathman’s Goodnight, Gorilla—that is one smart gorilla; Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You—to the moon and back again is right; and Iza Trapani’s Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star—which taught me that there are many more verses to that song than one would imagine. All of which came in handy as I held Jackie in my arms at the pediatrician’s one terrifying night when she had a scary-high fever.

But Jackie got over the fever and continued to show a deep interest in books. By the time she was ready to read, I thought I was ready to teach her.

I say “thought” because things didn’t quite go as smoothly as I’d planned. When Jackie would come across a word she didn’t know or had trouble pronouncing, she’d become so frustrated she’d just stop. If I told her the word before she was ready to hear it, she’d grow frustrated. If I waited too long, letting her try to figure it out on her own, she’d grow frustrated. The word “fun” seemed to pose a particular problem and little did no-experience-me know that parents go through this sort of thing all the time. But I didn’t want my kid to give up on reading prior to being able to read the word “fun,” so I gave it some thought and came up with a plan.

I told Jackie to poke me—that’s right, poke me—whenever she was ready to have me tell her a word. This way, I figured, I wouldn’t be jumping in too soon, which would no doubt be a blow to her ego, or leaving it too late, to the point where she’d given up. This worked amazingly well. She’d read until a word stopped her; then she’d try to puzzle it out herself; then if she couldn’t, she’d poke me, I’d say the word, she’d go on reading as though I wasn’t even there at all but the next time she encountered the word would read it perfectly. I ended up with a few black and blue marks, but my kid was no longer frustrated with reading. In fact my idea was so successful, I’m thinking I should find a way to let other struggling parents know about it. I could patent it as the “Poke-Me Method of Teaching Your Child to Read.”

Eventually Jackie discovered the charms of series books as many kids do these days. First there was Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House, then came Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones and Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia. Concerning the latter two, I’ve heard parents rail against all the mistakes Junie B. Jones and Amelia Bedelia make, saying that it encourages bad learning in kids. Me, I think Junie B. Jones is hysterically funny, and even moving in her own way. As for Amelia Bedelia, Jackie always seemed to get what I did, that Amelia perhaps suffers from Asperger’s although Jackie wouldn’t put it quite that way. Instead she’d say, “Mommy, Amelia just takes everything too literally.” I love that I have a kid who even at a young age knows what it means to take things too literally.

And then we discovered Roald Dahl together: The Twits, Esio Trot, The B.F.G.—so many great books. Roald Dahl ended up informing both of us as writers.

You see, the whole time I was growing a reader, I kept on writing. And Jackie eventually developed an interest in writing too. If it weren’t for her, The Sisters 8 series for young readers, which I co-author with Jackie and her dad, would never have been born. But Jackie has always written far more than simply what she’s written with us.

When she was three, one day she announced that she wanted to read to me rather than having me read to her. She opened up a blank book and proceeded to read as though she were seeing words printed on the page. At first I assumed she’d recite stories I’d read to her, many of which she’d memorized. Instead, she read stories I’d never heard, stories completely of her own invention. And these weren’t simple stories, like “We went to the beach. It was sunny. We had fun. The end.” Rather, there were story arcs! There were conflicts! There were bees! That’s right, bees. In almost every story, the conflict centered around something along the lines of, “And then the bees landed on the house.” OK, so maybe she had a repetitive theme, as some writers are wont to do, but still . . . my kid could write!

And Jackie, who is nine now, has gone on writing. In addition to The Sisters 8, she’s working on her own series called The Cat Chronicles. Last year she wrote a play with twenty-two characters in it, called The BFFs. Yesterday she wrote a skit about two birds having a discussion about what they’d eaten at every meal of the day, getting a surprising amount of humor mileage out of the repeated phrase “a worm.”

Jackie as a reader, Jackie as a writer. Like so much else in life, one thing feeds into other things, causing time to loop back on itself. So the entire time Jackie’s been reading and writing she’s been informing my life as a reader and writer, which brings us back to my first published book, The Thin Pink Line, a book about a sociopath who impersonates being pregnant for nine months, the idea for which I got while pregnant with Jackie.   

Win a free copy of Lauren’s upcoming young adult novel, Crazy Beautiful!
With each of Lauren's essays you will have a chance to win since we will be giving away a copy of this story—a contemporary re-visioning of Beauty & the Beast, told in he-said/she-said fashion, about a boy with hooks for hands and a gorgeous girl who meet on their first day at a new school—with each of Lauren’s seven essays. Send us an e-mail with your name each time this announcement is made (every other week). That’s it. For this first one drawing, all names received on or before Friday, September 18 will be entered, and the winner’s name will be drawn that evening. We will notify the winner over the weekend. Only one entry per person, please. There is no obligation, and your name and address will not be saved by BiblioBuffet or used for any purpose other than mailing the books.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted has sold 20 books to six publishers since 2003. Her published novels include The Thin Pink Line and Vertigo for adults; Angel’s Choice for teens, Me, In Between for tweens; and the first four of The Sisters 8, a nine-book series for young readers, co-written with her novelist husband Greg Logsted and their nine-year-old daughter Jackie. Her next published book will be the YA novel Crazy Beautiful, due out in September. Lauren still lives in Danbury, CT, where she writes and reads pretty much all the time. You can read more about Lauren's life and work at her personal website and The Sisters 8 site. Contact Lauren.



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