Victor and His Books
It was early summer of 1997, and Victor was on his way to his third home in just seven years. The same number of years he’s been alive; in fact, today was his birthday. But instead of celebrating his birthday with his best friends, Victor would be celebrating this special day in a run-down van, jam-packed with his family members, who at the moment, were far too vociferous as they sang every song that they possibly knew.
“99 bottles of soda on the wall!”—Victor’s family was immensely religious, explaining the substitute of soda instead of beer—”99 bottles of soda! Take one down….”
“Enough, please,” said Victor, “can we just be quiet for one minute?”
“Sure thing.” His father sided.
For Victor, moving a third time was not a joyous occasion, and he couldn’t comprehend how anyone could be cheerful stuffed in a sweaty van like ground beef in a burrito. As the noise in the car died down, Victor placed his head on the back-seat window, and every time his head smashed against it, he imagined what his life will be like in another town, attending another school.
Victor was rather surprised when he opened his eyes and saw a large, two-story house that would be his new home. Other than a ferocious headache he received from his head pounding against the car window like a hammer hitting a nail, he was feeling…alright. After all, he did have a few things that were familiar to him: his family (even though his brothers were monsters), has basketball cards, his faith, and his books, especially the Bible and Goosebumps. And out of all those things, his books were something that could get him through anything.
Victor’s first memory of books, was when he was a boy, and his mom would read to him at any moment in the day, particularly at night. His favorites were GOODNIGHT MOON and LOVE YOU FOREVER. He doesn’t remember seeing the words—to be honest, he wonders if words were present in the book at all, or if his mom made it all up—he just remembers his mom’s voice as she pronounced every syllable in every word. The books were music to Victor, and as she rocked him like an ocean rocks a boat, he would fall asleep to words every night.
As Victor grew to be a six-year old man, he began to read his own books. (he figured anyone who could help take care of two brothers, and read his own book, was a man). He couldn’t figure out every word, but for those wearisome words, he just made up his own until he had enough skill to figure it out. His favorite book was Goosebumps. With T.V. limited in his household, Goosebumps was the next best thing, and he would read every night: “Lindy looked up in wide-eyed inno…inna…instrument!” Victor read, as he bounced on his bed like a JackRabbit. Victor didn’t always read for entertainment; there were times when he wanted to learn. Weird for a six-year old isn’t it? But it was true. Yet, at the same time, he wanted to choose his own books. He read about the heroics of Abe Lincoln. He read about the bravery of David Livingstone. And he read—and this was his favorite—about the skillful talents of NBA players, Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller.
However, something dreadful happened to Victor in the following years after the move: he grew up. And as the number of his age went up, so too, did the number of his grade in school. Little-by-little, his love for books were replaced with a fear of them. Before, he could read any book, in any way he pleased. Now, he had to read the books the school required him to read; and he had to read them when the school told him to read them. It was terrible.
It didn’t get much better for poor Victor, who in ninth-grade switched schools for the fourth time. This school was much different than the Christian school he attended for the past six years. He was now in a public school, and the book he was most familiar with, The Bible, was unheard of in this foreign land. Books like Goosebumps were only to be read during free time; which if you’re familiar with the public school—was never! Victor thought free time was a made-up fairy tale that teachers used to get kids to behave and complete school work. He would believe in the Loch Ness monster before he believed in free time.
Every…single…class had dull books that Victor could not relate to. To Kill a Mockingbird? Who would ever want to kill a bird, thought Victor. Night? Sounds like a sad story that would put me to sleep. Oh, how about history textbooks that fill up your book bag and cause you to walk like a 90-year old with osteoporosis (no offence to the elderly with osteoporosis). There were books for test prep; there were books that taught us what a neuron is; there were books that taught us one-sided stories about our country and how it came to be. There was even a book that taught us about boys who governed themselves on a deserted island. A book, Victor thought, would have been much better if it were actually about lords and flies. It was all sickening.
This went on for most of his ninth-grade year, until, a teacher— a kind and understanding teacher—saved the year with free-time reading. Can something so simple change a student’s view on reading?
“Listen up, guys.” Mr. Christmas said. He was a very strange man. Short in stature, which allowed taller students like Victor to see that he only had a few hairs on his head; and even those hairs seemed to be hanging on to his head like a kid dangling from the monkey bars for the first time. He had glasses that looked as if they were meant for a giant instead of a human. But he was goofy, and was the one teacher that Victor truly learned from. “Today, we are implementing a new idea into our classroom.”—His students looked on with no understanding of what was said—”Starting…implementing means to put into place or to start.” Still nothing from his students.
“What is it?” One brave kid named Ben, asked.
“We will be adding fifteen minutes of free-time reading to our strenuous, eighty-minute block. Woo-hoo! And the crowd goes wild!”—the students were chirping crickets at night—”That means you can read whatever you want for fifteen minutes!”
Victor, ever the teacher’s pet that he was, volunteered to speak up for the first time in his short, public-school career: “ I…I think that’s a really good idea, Mr. Christmas.”
“That’s the spirit, Victor!” He said, making every student turn their head in slow motion toward Victor. Lucky for Victor, the bell rang, and class was over, saving him from any ribbing he might have gotten.
“Don’t forget to bring a book to read for tomorrow, ya knuckleheads!”
Victor walked out of the classroom like a defective ninja the first day on the job of being a ninja, but was held up by Mr. Christmas, who had a little more to say to the new student: “Victor, I understand that you came from a Christian school. Is that true.”
“Yes,” said Victor, “I went to Hope Christian Academy.”
“Well, I know how hard it can be for a Christian believer in a public school.”
Victor looked around as he really didn’t want anyone to hear this conversation.
“Yea, it’s kind of tough. I don’t really fit in with anyone here.” Victor said.
“You can relate to me. I’m a Christian, as well. And don’t be afraid if you ever want to bring the Bible to read in class. I think it would be a great opportunity to show your classmates who you are.
“Okay…I’ll think about. Thanks Mr. Christmas.”
Mr. Christmas gave a few nods too many, looking like a bald bobblehead with glasses, and Victor walked away to his next class.
That night, Victor could not stop thinking of what his teacher said: Bring in the Bible? That would be insane, he thought. If he brought the Bible into school, it could be social suicide. But at the same time, it would give him something to read that he could relate to, and it was a book that he could actually talk about. After much thought, he decided to bring the book in, and it was the best decision he ever made.
Not one student made-fun, or insulted Victor, as he imagined they would. Instead, they accepted Victor, and were curious about the book and what it was about. So, Victor told them all about it. He told them with the joy of a kid who had rediscovered his love for reading. And that was true! He was ecstatic to be reading—and talking with his peers about reading—a book that he loved and understood.
From that day forward, Victor never lost his love for reading. There were days when teachers would try to take it away; when society would deem certain books inappropriate. But there were always teachers like Mr. Christmas, who found ways to teach the curriculum, while still finding ways to keep the love of reading alive. And because of them, Victor’s dream is to become an English teacher, and continue to pass the magic of books along.