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Rachel Havins wrote to Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Dear Harper Lee,
I know librarians across the country voted To Kill a Mockingbird best novel of the century but its huge popularity is not why it means so much to me.
I have known that I have dyslexia since the third grade. Reading was never an activity I enjoyed because it took me forever to finish just one page. It stressed my eyes and my brain so badly that I would give up in frustration, never having a chance to get into the characters or storylines. I compensated for this problem by comprehending everything around me, drawing from what the teachers told us about the stories we were to read, workbook questions and how other kids answered questions in class. I hated books, even the thought of reading. By third grade it had caught up with me. My teacher discussed her concerns with my parents and they agreed to have me tested
After I was diagnosed, my mom found me an amazingly wonderful tutor named Mrs. Plummer. All her kids called her Mrs. P. She was the greatest. Mrs. P. never forced me into reading. Instead, we played fun word games and she taught me little tools to use while reading so I could stay on track. Still when it came to reading books I cried. They haunted my shelves and mocked me as I stared at them. One day Mrs. P pulled a book off a shelf in her office that, at the time, seemed to be a million pages long! I closed my eyes and could hear in my head, “now try to read this.” When I opened my eyes Mrs. Plummer was sitting across from me, leaned back in her chair with reading glasses sitting low on her slender nose and she began to read To Kill a Mockingbird.
I remember that I had a bowl of her buttery, salty popcorn in my lap, but I just stared as she read, not eating a morsel. For some reason, I was jealous of the way the words rolled off her tongue and how she knew when to raise and lower her voice, speed up and slow down. Just when I was starting to understand the plot of the book, the doorbell rang and our session was over. In the car ride home, all I could talk about with my Dad was the wonderful book Mrs. Plummer and I were reading. Dad was so taken aback and he turned to me and asked, “Is this my little girl in the car or someone elseís child?” When it came time for the next session, I ran up her sidewalk and into her office. Mrs. P was happily waiting with that beautiful big book in her hands. As she read, I realized that Scout seemed to act a lot like me. Did Mrs. P see this too and that was why she chose this book for us to read together? When I was little, I too wanted to be like my older brother and hang with the guys, wearing what was comfortable and not some frilly dress. I fell in love with Scoutís quick words and rambunctious spirit. After that session Mrs. P could tell I didnít want to stop and she offered to let me take the book home. I was so thrilled, I read the book constantly for a week and had finished the book before the next session.
Mrs. P was beyond proud and her pride made me feel wonderful inside and out. She helped me break through the struggle I had with words and opened the world of stories and characters and fantasy to me. Who would have guessed it would happen that simply, with a fantastic story about a girl and her family? She introduced me to other books that had characters like Scout, such as Tom Sawyer, but for me none compared to your book.
It was hard for me when Mrs. P finally said that she had taught me all she could and that I was ready to go it alone. Her gentle, thoughtful approach let me know from the beginning that she “got meĒ and she knew exactly how to help me read. I donít know what I would have done without her. At our last session, we were both very sad. She handed me a wrapped, heavy rectangle-shaped present. My eyes watered as I tore off the wrapping to see the words, To Kill a Mockingbird. Without your book I may have never been able to find the sweeter side of reading. I still read y our book often, whenever I begin to fear the sight of books again. Thank you so much for a wonderful story.
© The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. (Used by permission.)