My First Love
Dottie Griffis


            One day early in my fourth-grade year, my reading teacher Mrs. Denton made an announcement. “Today, boys and girls, we are going to begin reading a wonderful book called Little House in the Big Woods. You are just gonna love it!” she exclaimed. Mrs. Denton, a blond single mother of one who loved reading, was one of my favorite teachers.


            Even though I trusted her, I was not sure about this book. “It seems really long,” I thought.  I was used to reading short books and was a bit intimidated.


            “Do we have to read it all by ourselves?” asked one of my classmates.


            “No, I am going to read it to you,” said Mrs. Denton.


            “This book is the true story of a little girl named Laura Ingalls,” stated Mrs. Denton. “She grew up in the big woods of Wisconsin, and in this book she tells us all about her life there. She wrote this story when she was in her sixties at the encouragement of her daughter Rose. It turned out to be very popular, so she wrote even more stories about her childhood, even about when she met her future husband and got married.”


            “OOH,” several of the girls exclaimed. We were beginning to get very interested in Laura.


            Mrs. Denton placed a chair in the middle of the room, and we all gathered around her in a circle on the floor. As she began to read, her face took on peculiar expressions, and her body actions indicated things going on in the story. When she read a character’s part, she would become that character. She read all about the things that happened to Laura and her family. There were stories about Pa going hunting and smoking the meat that he brought home, his friend who would stop by occasionally and bring gifts like homemade rock candy to Laura, Mary, and baby Carrie, and Santa bringing them presents at Christmas because they had been good. “OOH! The candy was so good and sweet. It was the best thing we had ever eaten,” she exclaimed. As she read Laura’s words, Mrs. Denton rubbed her tummy and smacked her lips. “Just think about how Laura felt when she heard knocking at the door,” she said as we read the part about Santa coming to bring them presents. She also vividly described the part about Pa protecting the family from wolves, looking around as if she were Pa trying to spot them. She made the story come alive, and I could taste the candy, hear the wolves, feel the cold of winter, hear Pa playing his fiddle, and see the family gathered in the small living room.


            That year I truly began to love reading. I often visited the school library to find books. When I ran out of things there, I searched the house. I read Mama’s cookbooks, her home decorating books, and almost all of our first set of encyclopedias. I spent much of my spare time in my room with a book of some kind.


            I still have fond memories of Mrs. Denton and her reading of Little House. I was inspired to become a teacher by my love of her class and the love she gave me for reading. Now, I read all kinds of books. Some of my favorite authors are Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Patricia Cornwell, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and Dean Koontz. I have never regretted becoming a reading teacher or gotten over my love of a great book. Last year as I read to my students from the book The Well, I remembered the lessons taught to me by Mrs. Denton. “I ain’t wantin’ them white folks on this land!” I read as I put all of the anguish Ma Rachel felt into my voice and allowed my body to shake with her anger. I hope Mrs. Denton would be proud.