Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Freckles (copy)

In the world of literature, freakish freckles, curiosity and stubbornness make for memorable characters. Pippi Longstocking, Laura Ingalls, Caddie Woodlawn and Anne Shirley are just a handful of fictional characters that spring to mind.

As an early reader, one tends to gravitate towards characters that mirror friends or one’s self. My first encounter with the be-speckled sort, arriving in book form, was Eloise. My mother and I spent hours reading this picture book front to back. Maybe because she mentioned I was very much like Eloise.

At the time, I didn’t think she meant precocious; instead, I focused on her physical traits. Miss Eloise wasn’t a cutesy character, but an ugly, pencil-legged, big-bellied mess. Remember her freckles? Well, she only sported a few, but after Mom’s comment, my Eloise had hundreds. I knew better than mark a book; however, in my mind, she became as splotched as a speckled egg.

Imagine my surprise when reading Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The character Anne Shirley is an 11-year-old, red-headed and enormously freckled, opinionated orphan girl. She could have been my hero, had I known she existed.

I became familiar with Anne on a recent trip to Prince Edwards Island in Canada. As a librarian, I knew the Green Gables series, but my childhood revolved around another entertaining one, Little House on the Prairie. The kindred spirit I felt with Anne, even as an adult, was a little unexpected.

As a teacher, librarian or parent facing a reluctant reader or struggling to get a book in a child’s hand, remember this little secret—it is all in the character. This small tip is the key to creating a life-long reader. If the child identifies with a character, they tend to become the character. For example, I was crawling all over the Plaza, not Eloise.

Search out books filled with characters that mirror the young reader’s world. Take a trip to the library and check out a stack. Sit back and watch as their eyes light up when they recognize themselves. One might catch them role-playing with their imaginary, new friends.

This universal trait applies to adults, too. Adult characters may not have as many freckles, but somehow I can always tell if they did as children.