WITS Staff’s Earliest Reading Memories

Annie KennedyBooks, Inside WITS

Anniversaries are natural opportunities to reflect. In honor of WITS turning 30, our team is taking a trip back in time and revisiting our earliest reading memories. Join us as we remember the people, places, and stories that brought us great joy, both then and now.

Ashley Bloom, Chief Development Officer

My earliest reading memory was my parents reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom over and over again! My sister and I loved it, and, eventually, we had memorized the book and were reading it to them. Another early memory was doing a report in third grade about seals. I checked out a book from the library and read about how seals lived, what they ate, and who their greatest enemy is (killer whales!). It was the first memory I have of learning about something new by reading a book.

Shawn Bush, Program Manager, Mid-Day Mentoring

Fortunately, I have many early reading memories, because my mom worked as a public elementary school librarian. Many of my earliest reading memories come from going to public libraries. I read books like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. We would also go to my mom’s school in the summer to help her re-organize books in the library. I would always read piles of children’s books in the aisles before I stocked them on the shelf. One distinct very early memory I have is my mom using a felt board and puppets for stories such as I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and I learned so much about the joy of storytelling through those engaging read-alouds. I’ll end this recanting by expressing my whole-hearted appreciation for public libraries and school librarians everywhere.

Delaney Earley, Program Coordinator

After watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with my dad, I vividly remember visiting Borders bookstore and buying copies of the first four books. At the time, I was entering first grade and loved having my dad read a chapter to me each night. By the second book, our roles had reversed, and I began reading out loud to him! Our shared excitement about the Harry Potter series introduced me to chapter books and helped inspire a lifelong love of reading.

Jessica Gilliam, Program Coordinator

When I was seven, my family began going on summer road trips to national parks throughout the country. Although these trips were only a week or two long, I would pack the car with a colossal crate full of Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, and Judy Blume books and read on the road for hours on end. I always had the habit of twisting my hair as I read. On one trip, I managed to tie most of it into a series of knots so tangled that my mother had no choice but to pull out the scissors and chop it all off. I no longer twiddle my hair, but I still love to read, and my dear mother has since been forgiven.

Precious Hutton, Program Coordinator

My earliest reading memory is of my father volunteering to read a book to my kindergarten class during story time. Although I have no recollection of the title of the book, I do remember being extremely excited about my dad visiting me at school and doing one of my favorite things, which is reading, of course! I remember the overall experience being filled with so much joy and laughter from both myself and my classmates as they got to connect with my dad.

Annie Kennedy, Program Manager, Workplace Mentoring

My dad taught me how to read when I was three years old with a Sleeping Beauty book and record set. Together, we sat next to my little yellow record player and listened to the book being read on repeat. We spent hours listening to it, and I loved hearing the familiar chime that let me know it was time to turn the page. Eventually, I was able to read along with the narrator and could finally hear Maleficent’s curse and Princess Aurora’s eventual awakening in my own voice.

Annie, looking cool, calm, and collected, reads from her book of nursery rhymes in the early 1990s
Elizabeth Kristoff, Development & Communications Manager

As a budding bibliophile and inherent rule-follower, I remember a deep reverence for the local library. My mother, an avid reader herself, would take my siblings and me to all the library activities – story hour, puppet shows, craft time, and – of course – selecting books. To get up to the children’s section, we had to journey through the grownup section. I remember bearing a deep respect for the quiet, the omniscient corridors of books, and the antiquity of the stained-glass windows. Now, I live within a five- minute walk of our neighborhood library, where I take my three-year-old son every week to [ride the elevator, find Nemo in the fish tank, check out the librarian’s desk fan and select books. I hope he – and his baby sister – grow to love the library and all it has to offer.

Tena Latona, Chief Executive Officer

My earliest reading memory is watching my parents read The Detroit Free Press every day. To me, that was an indicator of being an adult – drinking coffee and reading the paper. I would ask for the funnies, ask my mom to put my milk in a coffee mug, and sit next to them and try to hold the paper the way they held it, which is tough to do with five-year-old hands. Reading the paper in print with coffee is still one of my favorite simple pleasures to this day.

Elena Medeiros, Program Coordinator

My family moved to the US when I was two years old. By the time I was in kindergarten, I still struggled with English and became shy and uninterested in school. However, everything changed for me when our teacher read us The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems. This story of a humble pigeon eating a hot dog they found on the street was the funniest thing that I had ever heard. I practically screamed with laughter alongside my classmates, and I could hardly contain myself when I went home to my parents and shared this pigeon’s ridiculous journey with them. This book helped bring me to life in the classroom. I have remained hungry for hot dogs and stories ever since.

Alex Michel, Director of Development

My earliest reading memory is being read Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. I would request Madeline to be read to me nightly, and on nights when I was scared of the dark, I used to tell myself, “You are as brave as Madeline.” Being a redhead and growing up in a city, I always related to her and strived to replicate her can-do attitude and fearlessness.

Tra’Lisha Renteria, Program Specialist

When I think of my first reading memories, I was in first grade. My sister’s father was big on getting in tune with African heritage. He would bring my sisters and I books about Africa and books with Black characters who celebrated their African heritage. At the time, I thought it was weird, because I was not African. Looking back, I think that it was cool, and I now understand what he was trying to accomplish. As a young Black girl, it was about representation and seeing myself in the stories I read.

Daphne Robinson, Program Manager, Rochelle Lee Teacher Award

One of my earliest reading memories was selecting books at the library that I was excited to read: mysteries, biographies, nonfiction books, whatever I wanted. After I made my selections, I remember being upset that I couldn’t borrow the books I wanted; at the time, the Chicago Public Library had restrictions on what could be borrowed with the juvenile card. I was always angry that my mother had to check out my books. When I got older, I was excited that I could get an adult card and check out whatever I wanted.

Kellie Romany, Marketing Director

My earliest reading memory is of the Little Golden Books. I can’t recall a specific title, but I remember the gold edge and how happy it made me. Perhaps that is all that really matters: the joy of holding those books with their gold spines.

Kristen Strobbe, Chief Program Officer

One of my earliest reading memories was when I got the first book in The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. The book series has a long history, dating back to the 1940s, and it was published in paperback with a new surge in popularity in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I was sad when I finished the first book and begged my parents to take me to the library the next day to check out more books in the series; needless to say, I was obsessed. By the time I entered middle school, I owned or had checked out from the library every single Boxcar Children book.

This reading memory is so special to me, because it was the first time I felt immersed in another world through books. With over 20 different books and stories in the whole series, I could really get to know and become friends with the Boxcar Children – Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny.

Erin Toale, Marketing Coordinator

When I think about reading as a child, there are two entities that come to mind. One is the local library where I spent an inordinate amount of time, especially in the summer. I was, and remain, extremely averse to heat and humidity and preferred reading in the AC to running around outside. The second is Reading Olympics, which both unlocked my competitive nature and solidified my feelings that reading was (and is) a fun group activity.

Erin, second from left in the back row, dominates the competition on her school’s 1998 Reading Olympics team
Ellen Werner, Program Director

Some of my earliest reading memories are of my parents reading Amelia Bedelia and Tickety Tock, What Time Is It? My dad did silly voices for all the characters in Amelia Bedelia, and my mom read Tickety Tock, What Time Is It? often enough that I think she still has it memorized to this day. I am grateful for my parents’ sense of humor and willingness to re-read the most boring (in retrospect) titles as often as my siblings and I wanted; reading was always a special way to spend time together.

Nick Wilson, Operations Manager

We lived with my great-grandparents until I was about six. Right in the front entrance was a bookcase. It had children’s books, reference books, Archie comics, and textbooks that my older cousins never returned to school. My favorite thing to do was take a book to the enclosed back porch and get lost for a little while.