Perils of Childhood Reading

If you read a lot in private as a kid and listen to Big Issues on TV, life can get confusing, sometimes scary. Here are some examples.

An Id in Your Pocket? Slipped into the young people’s shelves of our public library was a Freudian biography of Louis Braille with mystifying references to an “id” that went everywhere with young Louis. Nobody seemed to comment on it or speak to it. Was it small, pocket-sized? Invisible? It constantly kept him from doing the right thing and he couldn’t seem to shake it. So it was clearly bad. Was it something only blind Frenchmen had or did everyone have one. If so, I might have one, or would have one. How would I know? Would it trip me up? You can see the problem.

Where’s the Ladder? Nancy Drew had two friends: Bess and George. George, confusingly, was female. In introducing them or, more generally, introducing two people, “Carolyn Keene” invariably noted that “the latter was . . . .” I read this as “the ladder.” Where did the ladder come from? Was it animated? Would it figure in the crime? Really strange.

Too many palaces I consistently read “place” as “palace.” This created problems in comprehension: where were the palaces in the Wild West, in Appalachia or colonial America?  And why, when the “palace/place” was further described, did it invariably seem so decidedly un-palatial, inhabited by non-royalty? Why couldn’t I see these many palaces?

When to argue, when to urge? I guess this is a case of mild dyslexia but the confusion either made conflict in a scene with none or had characters appearing wimpy in not standing their ground.

Coming soon to you. . . euthanasia My parents were fond of watching PBS talk shows on Big Issues. Once I walked in on a panel discussion of one such and was hastily told the topic wasn’t appropriate for children and I should “go read or something.” Of course I was curious and did go, but only as far as the hall. There I hid and listened.

Clearly this was a Big Issue. The panelists were very somber. The consequences of poor choices were irreversible and the risk of mistake high. Death was clearly involved. Finally I caught the name of the Big Issue: euthanasia. Except that I understood “Youth in Asia.” Now there were lots of youths in Asia. Too many, apparently, and this was a terrible problem. Apparently the solution was to kill them off. “Youth in Asia,” then, was code for “kill the kids.” The process should be painless and “experts” involved, but the goal was clearly death.

One of the panelists proposed implementing “Youth in Asia” here America. My stomach dropped. There were definitely lots of “youth in America.” I was part of the Baby Boom. We were too many and had to be culled.

At that point, one of my parents got up and I ran to my room, where I passed, as you can imagine, a sleepless night.

The next day, convinced I should know the worst and plan—move to Europe, perhaps—I eased up to my mother in the kitchen and asked what she thought of “Youth in Asia.”

“In the some circumstances, it’s the best thing,” she said.

“So . . . will it be happening in America?”

“Well, some people want that.”

Long pause before I ventured: “Do you?”

“Like I said, sometimes it’s the best thing.” The penny must have dropped and she turned to look at me. “Were you listening to the program last night?”


“We told you. Some topics aren’t for children. Why don’t you go outside? It’s a beautiful day.”

I should go outside one last time before being . . . gotten rid of? I must have dawdled at the door, looking stricken. Maybe I cried, begged, or threatened to run away. In any case the confusion was resolved, along with a reminder that none of this would have happened if I had only followed instructions to “go read or something.” Except that, as noted above, reading creates its own confusions for the young mind.

I’m thinking I’m not the only one to be tripped up by too much secret reading.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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One comment on “Perils of Childhood Reading
  1. Iosifina says:

    I think it’s beautiful that you can remember those words that tripped you up. So happy the “youth in Asia” didn’t take you out!


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Sunday, May 6, 2pm reading from latest work at Hexagon Brewing Company, Knoxville, TN.

Thursday, May 10, 6-8 pm presentation on research on the historical novel, Blount County Library, Maryville, TN.

When We Were Strangers, Italian translation, to be presented in Pescasseroli, Italy, August 2018.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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