When I was in third grade I went to a new school. It ran Kindergarten through 8th grade. So, I knew that most of the kids would have already known each other for three years.
I had never been the new kid before. At first I didn’t really think about it. I was so excited about this school. My parents and I had visited two and this one had the better library. I remember thinking it looked like the one from Beauty and the Beast. (It totally didn’t.)
Anyway, the first day of school rolls around and it suddenly struck me that everyone would already know each other. And I would know no one.
My sister started preschool there the year before. Now that she was in Kindergarten, we’d have the same lunch time. I told myself that I would just find her if by the time lunch rolled around I didn’t have any friends.
That first morning, my mom drove us to school. My sister hopped right in, excited to see her friends again. I took a deep breath and followed. Once I’d said goodbye to my mom, I didn’t look back. Mostly because I was pretty sure I was going to cry. And I might be able to handle being the weird kid who didn’t talk to anyone, but I was not going to be a crier on top of that.
My teacher was a very sweet woman, who I had already met. She smiled when she saw me and told me where my seat was. It was all the way in the back of the classroom, by the class’ bookshelf. Looking at the books, I felt a little better. I mean, I could always read if no one would talk to me.
But, seeing as kids are often on the friendlier end, I had barely sat down before the girl next to me said hi. Tentatively, I started talking to her. She had been there since pre-school and was fascinated by the fact that I hadn’t. Still, this conversational track could only go on for so long. And we ran out of things to talk about. So, searching for something, I looked back at the books.
Over the shelf, in big construction paper letters, was written, “Dive into reading.” It was surrounded by construction paper waves and fish. In my panic, I awkwardly made a joke about literally diving into reading and then pretended to actually dive into the book shelf.
It was a desperate gamble. And I looked like an idiot.
But she laughed so hard she nearly fell out of her chair.
Was it really that funny? No. But as kids, we’re an easy bunch to amuse. So, feeling bolstered by her appreciation for my comedic genius, I continued to make dumb jokes about reading and diving for the rest of the morning. And she continued to laugh. We talked about the books we’d read and the one we wanted too. We gave each other suggestions on what to read next. And we laughed a lot.
This girl and I were friendly for the rest of our time in that school. We were never best friends. Ultimately, other than big birthday parties, we did not end up hanging out together all that much. But every time I pick up Stuart Little or see one of the classroom signs inviting me to “Dive into reading,” or anything similar, I smile and think of the girl and the books that made me feel comfortable on a day when I thought I could never be more scared.