I enjoyed reading from a young age, but developed a passion for it in the third grade. Third grade was an interesting year for me as I was part of a split 3rd/4th grade class that had been constructed due to an excess of students at my elementary school. I remember the letter my parents received explaining the unique situation, and how the school felt I would be a good candidate to navigate such a classroom.
It actually turned out to be a thriving learning environment for me. I work best when given a task and time alone to complete it. The split teaching style left me plenty of room to finalize my assignments and eavesdrop on fourth-grade lessons. When I wasn't doing that, I was reading.
Third grade was when I was first introduced to the Book It! reading program. It was such a novel concept—read books, earn stars, get a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut. My teacher, whose shoulder-length brown hair I can remember though not her name, incentivized us through a chart she'd put on the wall by her desk. Horizontally, she'd listed our names; vertically, page number goals. Not only would I earn yellow stars to affix to my gigantic purple Book It! pin, I'd also get to put stars by my name for the whole class to see. It was healthy competition, and incited in me a thirst for story that has yet to be satisfied.
As a class, third and fourth grade, we read Where the Red Fern Grows. Because of the age I was at the time and the emotional affect it had on me, it remains the most heartbreaking book I've ever read. Another beloved book from that year was Racso and the Rats of NIMH. Due to mild dyslexia, I thought it was "Rasco" for the first three-quarters of the book. I also didn't realize it was a sequel to a book that I hadn't read, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I didn't know what sequels or serial novels were, or that the concept of a continuing story even existed. That was until I discovered one particular book that would change the way I looked at storytelling forever.
I have a very vivid mental image in which I pull Ann M. Martin's The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy-Crazy Stacey from a low shelf of my cramped elementary school library. "While spending two weeks at the Jersey shore as mother's helpers, Mary Anne objects when Stacey neglects her babysitting duties after falling in love with Scott the lifeguard. What will happen if Stacey gets her heart broken?" (List of The Baby-Sitters Club Novels). Stacey had fallen in love, and so had I. I went on to devour every single book in the series I could get my hands on, including the Super Specials and Mysteries. It was a simple concept, each book written from the perspective of a different girl, that helped to pave the way for multi-perspective serials like, I don't know, Pretty Little Liars. The girls are all connected to one another and very influential in one another's lives, yet they have their own shit going on, too. Enough to support a full manuscript. It was brilliant, and the influence of a continuing story certainly shows in my Bloodline novels.
While my deep love for reading may have developed outside of Book It!, I'm not sure it would have taken such deep roots. I was motivated to read as many books as possible, so I read as many books as possible. It got in my blood at a young age, and has never left me. Thank you for that, Book It! Thank you for opening my worldview up wide enough to accept the possibility of the outstanding. And thank you, above all else, for all of those pepperoni pizzas.