Today I welcome Billye Johnson to my blog to tell us about her life of reading.
Little Golden Books provided inexpensive books with delightful stories so most children could have books to keep and love. I had a charmed childhood in a family that read – incessantly. That’s how I met the two green-eyed kittens, Brush and Hush, in The Color Kittens. Of all the Little Golden Books in my house, this was my favorite. While others might be drawn to The Saggy Baggy Elephant or The Pokey Little Puppy, I was true to my artistic kittens.
They poured paint from their buckets and created streams of green from mixing yellow and blue, purple emerged from blue and red. The colors were endless. If they could create colors on paper with paint, I knew I must be able to do that too. My mother, in an age before healthy snacks, would make vanilla buttercream frosting then recreate the colors with drops of food dye and spread the concoction on graham cracker squares. A tastier lesson is art there never was.
Most of all, I loved the words. Oh, the glory of the story that I could curl up with time after time. Soon I was reading on my own. Like my mother reading to me, I traced each word that I had memorized. Someone named Margaret Wise Brown had given me words in my favorite book.
I wanted to do the same.
I pretended to write stories, mere scribbles on paper. I would “read” these to the children in the neighborhood when we played school. Books were more than stories to me. They were a source of such delight. I could sit quietly and read (or pretend to). I reveled in the colors and adored the placement of the words. I would press my face into the pages and inhale the scent of ink and paper. I loved my books so much that I knew they must taste as good as they looked. Experimentally, I touched my tongue to the slick cover of The Color Kittens, hoping that it was as delicious as the frosting. And it was TERRIBLE.
I understand that we remember taste more clearly than other senses. To this day, I can remember the sharp taste of the ink and gloss from the cover. No amount of Juicy Fruit gum could take that flavor away.
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
Obviously, Sir Francis Bacon had never had a Little Golden Book to munch on.
After that experience, I confined my book sampling to reading. I want to travel with The Bobbsey Twins. I wanted Danny Dunn to be my best friend. I wished I could have my own boxcar like The Boxcar Children (and a bit of fun without grownups). As I got older, I wanted to be Iola, the lone girl in The Hardy Boys adventures. I even wanted a flivver like Nancy Drew had.
Most of all, I wanted to be a writer. My first rejection letter came from Jack and Jill Magazine for a piece I had carefully written on my Big Chief tablet with my fat no.2 pencil. It was a typewritten response on their letterhead, encouraging me to continue writing. I wish of all the pieces of paper my parents saved over the decades, that one letter could be found.
My high school English teacher, Greta Crooks, took me aside on the last day of my senior year and told me that I needed to become a writer. I tried for years to be someone with a sane career and a regular paycheck but I was always happiest to be the writer.
And it all started with two little kittens named Brush and Hush. Thank you, Margaret Wise Brown, for planting the first seeds. Bless you, Greta Crooks, for watching them sprout and encouraging me to nurture them.
Billye Johnson has been writing professionally for over 25
years. In addition to freelance writing for
national and international magazines, her writings include co-authoring books,
ghostwriting business articles, and forays
into the world of children’s books and
romance novels. She is an editor for LL
-Publications, an independent publisher based in Scotland.