A lost gem
My father didnâ€™t believe that I should be taught to read before I got to school. He had learned to read when he was three, and by the time his class in school got around to sounding out Dick and Jane, the teacher just let him sit in a corner with Treasure Island while she tended to the others. Free reading time, he acknowledged, was valuable, but he always thought it affected how the teachers treated him. As a child, therefore, I was read to often and encouraged to pick up books and flip through them, but I wasnâ€™t encouraged or taught directly or officially to read.
In the dim dark ages of the 1970s, kids werenâ€™t taught to read until the first grade. Kindergarten was for learning letters and numbers and colors and how not to kill or maul other children for several hours a day. Then came first grade. At last, reading! I was excited. The teacher handed out slim volumes, our first reading books.
Of course that night I went home and read the whole thing, because much like what really happened with my dad, I just figured it out myself. I probably had had it figured out for a while, but no one ever asked me to read anything, because I wasnâ€™t supposed to know how yet.
The next day I went in and smiled happily when it was time for reading. I liked the book! I told the teacher. When do I get another one?
It was a long time ago. Any eye-rolling I remember is probably just the narrative Iâ€™ve created for myself of the moment. Still, there was a definite sense that in my immediate future Iâ€™d be sitting in a corner with Treasure Island.
But no, things had changed since my dad was a kid. There were other kids who could also read already or who quickly learned to read above grade level. We were in our own reading group. First we read the other reading books ahead of our grade. Eventually they put us to reading the Junior Great Books series, which I am pleased to report still exists. I did some searching, and I wish I could report on changes between then and now, but I canâ€™t.
I only remember one story, one single very short story, that I read in a Junior Great Book. I remember it because it took my breath away. It made me feel and understand another place and time so completely, because it wasnâ€™t so different from my own, not really. The place and time were different but the kids acted like the kids around me did. Like kids always do.
I loved stories and reading. I always had, as far as my childâ€™s memory was concerned. But I had never, ever read a story like this. It was a brilliant faceted diamond set in a show window, and all other stories faded humbly around it like glass beads or paste pearls.
The story was Ray Bradburyâ€™s â€śAll Summer In A Day.â€ť It is still anthologized in the Junior Great Books reader for Grade 4. The entire text is available online here. Please take a moment to read it. I just read it again and it still stuns me, how much he can say in so few words. It still stuns me for its beauty, cruelty, and truth.
The nation, and the world, lost a great treasure when we lost Ray Bradbury today. But our fortune in having his stories forever will increase the storehouse of humanity a thousandfold. Thank you, Mr. Bradbury. May you rest in peace.