Sunday, August 14, 2016

How to Bribe Me

By:  Susan

It always surprises me when I see rewards offered for reading.  For me, reading has always been the reward.  

As a child, I suffered from chronic tonsillitis.  I remember getting a penicillin shot almost every other week.  This was back in the early sixties in Iran where disposable needles weren’t available yet.  I remember climbing the stairs to the top floor of the pharmacy where a man in a white coat would take out a giant metal injector and place it in a steel container with boiling water to sterilize it.  He would then approach me, who was being restrained by a mother or a father and probably screaming.  Next thing I remember, I am walking up the stairs of my house rubbing my sore behind.  To encourage me to endure these painful experiences and to show up for the next one, I was bribed with books.  Every time I had to get a shot, my mother would buy me a book!  By age five, when I finally had my tonsils removed, I had amassed quite a library.  In second grade
when I came down with a severe case of the measles, my one request was a copy of a children’s book I had seen on the children’s story hour on television.  The book was Kaduye Ghelghele Zan or the Rolly Polly Pumpkin, about an old lady who tricks some wild animals by hiding inside a pumpkin as a mode of transportation.  I remember lying miserable and feverish in my parent’s dark bedroom and my father coming home with a hardback copy of that book.  I know he had to have searched for it all over town.  Of all the things I left behind when I came to this country, I miss my collection of children’s books the most.

When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to join the newly established library in my local park.  I had to get permission from my parents and my school principal in order to join.  The principal refused to consent because he thought outside reading would interfere with my academic performance.  My elementary school did not have a library.  The one at my high school was used as the detention hall until a blessed soul took away the locks and let us check out the books.  At fifteen when I stepped into a public library in Houston, Texas for the first time, I could not believe that there were no locks and I did not need anyone’s permission to get a library card.  That was incentive enough for me to try to adjust to a new country and a new culture.

During the years I lived in Venezuela, my reward was the small, dank and dusty library at the Church that was set up decades ago by the Standard Oil Company to meet the needs of the expatriates living in that far off post.  I read every Agatha Christie mystery they owned, as I fed and rocked my four children who were born there.  Once, I found a tiny kiosk tucked away in a narrow hallway of a shopping center next to the bakery I frequented.  The young woman and her mother who owned the store were the only source of quality children’s literature in that town.  They did it for the pure joy of it, for God knows it wasn’t for the money. Finding that little bookstore was like finding a treasure.

Once I became a teacher, every time I read The Miraculous  Journey of Edward Tulane, my students would burst into applause at the end of the last page.  Kids have come in voluntarily during their lunch period to listen to Esperanza Rising How to Steal a Dog and The One and Only Ivan bring tears to my eyes and theirs.

I don’t think we need to reward anyone for reading but by reading.  The story is the prize.  The words are the bribe.  


  1. What a wonderful piece! My heart sank as I read the part where the principal would not consent to you joining the library! How horrible! I, too, love the library. Not a fast reader but I love books, the stories, just the same. Have you ever read Mrs. Kat and Tush by Patricia Polacco to your students? One of my favs. Thanks again for the article!!

  2. I love all of Patricia Polacco's stories, especially Mrs. Katz and Tush. Thanks for reading!