My Journey Into Reading


Ria Lowenschuss

Ria Lowenschuss and her mother pose on a beach up north in Michigan.

For much of my life, I have dreaded bringing people over to my house for one reason: baby pictures. Like the majority of other children, my mother has a large collection of photographs of me from day one to the present. But her favorite picture to show friends, family, and everyone in between isn’t of me as a newborn, with a wrinkly face and tiny toes, or me toddling around for the first time. My mother’s go-to photograph is of four-year-old me, in bed, staring intently with furrowed eyebrows at the German history book I have propped open on my lap, pretending to read.
My early memories of my mother surround books. In kindergarten, she visited my class during a reading lesson. I still hadn’t managed to finish a book by myself, and I was getting frustrated. The words didn’t make sense, and all I wanted was to speed through the story and absorb it, like I had seen my mom do with the novels she read before bed. My mother leaned over my shoulder and put her finger on the page, helping me sound out the words and follow along with her voice. I finished my first book that day.
As I grew older, my mother began to read to me in earnest. We spent our afternoons at a local coffee shop, sipping drinks — cappuccino with an extra shot for her, hot chocolate for me — and falling into stories. We would sit at the bar that looked out onto the street, stained glass ceiling lights illuminating our faces, and my mother would crack open our latest read. When my mother read out loud, I could not help but listen, enamored by her voice and the stories that it painted in my head. During these afternoons, I fell in love with books, with words, with storytelling. But most of all, I fell in love with the world, and with the emotions that come with living in it.
As my mother read me “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell, I closed my eyes and was transported to Victorian England and its lush, green countryside. Amidst the beauty, I was filled with rage and sadness at how Black Beauty was treated, and I clutched my mother’s hand hard when she was trapped in the barn fire. “Heidi” helped me realize that family can be chosen, not just born with, and that sometimes, all you need is friendship and a little goat milk. And the first time my mother read me “Little Women,” I couldn’t bear to finish it. I was too scared and sad for Beth. Through books, I began to understand how vast the world truly was. This should have made me feel small or unimportant, but all it did was excite me. I knew I could explore and get lost in my adventures, because I had my mother by my side, keeping me safe.
My entire life has been defined by books. Throughout middle school, I wrote words on my bedroom walls in Sharpie so I would always be surrounded by them. Now, as a high schooler, I spend the majority of my time at the library — the school librarian knows my student ID number by heart. I have learned about the world through stories; through classics and modern fiction, through fantasy and romance. And now, as I reach legal adulthood, I am scared of the prospect of seeing the world for myself instead of through the books that I love. I am especially terrified of venturing out on my own, without my mother there to sound out the words with me.
Without my mother and her love of books and her belief in the power of stories, I would not be the person I am today. I would not be a reader and I would not be Ria, a woman who knows that books can define and influence a person’s life. Thanks to my mother, and the hours she spent reading to me, I know that the world has been created by stories. We have to keep telling them to keep going, and to keep growing.