My Favorite Line

I have a lot of favorite books. As a kid, I loved the Uncle Wiggly series, mostly because my dad read it to us at bedtime, and seemed to enjoy the Skillery-skallery Alligator more even than my brothers did. Dad also referred to my mom, a registered nurse, as Nurse Jane Fuzzy-Wuzzy, which probably endeared the series to us further.

I adore certain passages of the Bible as translated in the King James version. Regardless of any theological inclinations, this is gorgeous, vintage English employed in the expression of some beautiful sentiments.

In first grade, I read about Dick, Jane and Sally (though I always wanted more stories for Spot and Puff), and was soon reading every horse story the school library contained. I quickly moved on to anything Hardy Boys, some Bobsey Twins, and a smattering of biographies.

Then, in third grade, we had a story hour one day over in Mrs. Sofranko’s room, and that is when I learned the meaning a “favorite” book. Mrs. Delores Sofranko was cool. She’d done a Peace Corps year in Nigeria, she was pretty, and she had a smile that said every child she ever met was a wonder to her. The lady could teach.

The book she chose to read to us that day was simple, not even a chapter book, though her audience had reached the venerable and smug age of eight. I mean, this was a children’s book, but I gobbled up every word of, “The Dot and the Line.”

A tall, dark, relentlessly straight Line, falls in love with a carefree, happy-go-lucky Dot. She thinks he’s serious, dull and not worth a second look—the mad Squiggle is ever so much more fun— until the Line realizes he can… bend. With some effort and imagination, the line bends to form an angle, and then he contorts himself into increasingly fascinating geometric shapes. As the book progresses, so does the romance, until at the end, the Dot and the Line realize they can live happily ever after.

Put them together as illustrator and author Norton Juster did at the end of the tale, and you get an exclamation point! In the movie version (there was one), the tagline is: To the vector go the spoils.

The subtitle for the book is, “A Romance in Lower Mathematics.” I loved it. When we were given an art assignment to draw a scene from the book, I drew the Dot and the Line eating popcorn on a park bench. They didn’t quite sit next to each other, so we know the scene was from the first half of the book—right?

I loved the cleverness of the book, the utter impossibility of two such different characters finding a way to be together. I loved that the Dot had to realize that the Squiggle was silly and disorganized, while the Line had find the courage for self-expression and creativity. These characters had arcs, they had to risk changing their self-concepts, and they found their Happily Ever After.

When Jo Bourne won her RITA for the Best Historical Romance of 2011, she used her moment at the microphone to thank her teachers. I didn’t start writing romances until I was in my late forties, but my enthusiasm for the genre traces back to that day 45 years ago, when I heard an inspired teacher read a simple book, “The Dot and the Line.”

 What’s the first book that stuck with you? Any idea what made it so memorable? To one commenter, I’ll send a Toby Stephens version of the “Jane Eyre” DVD.

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21 comments on “My Favorite Line

  1. I can’t count the number of favorite books I had as a child. My Mom was a second grade teacher (my second grade teacher, as a matter to the fact) and she always used to tell the story of how she was about half convinced I could read when I was three because I could read all the words in my favorite book. Actually it turned out that I was reciting them. She had read me the book so often I memorized the entire book. I can’t remember the name but it was a Little Golden Book about a boy going to the doctor’s office and in the corner of every page the action was duplicated by a tiny mouse going to a mouse doctor.

    • For my daughter, that book was Goodnight Moon… and The Runaway Bunny…. and The Very Best Home for Me… and and and… you learned to love reading before you learned to read. Smart mom.

    • I never quite got what all the fuss was about, but I was twelve when I read this one for the first time. Rhett was cool, Scarlett was TSTL, but the whole symbolism of the War of Northern Aggression of course went over my pretty little head.

  2. The book was Fun With Dick and Jane. It was a school book and it was helping me to learn how to read. This in turn opened up a whole new world of adventure to me, including Gone With The Wind.

    • Betty, I don’t know who wrote that book, but whoever put the word “fun” in the title was a genius. I always wanted more stories for Spot and Puff and more trips to Grandpa and Grandma’s farm.

  3. Though I have been inhaling books since I learned how to read, it is Jane Eyre that touches my hear the most. The scene of Jane’s impassioned outburst to Rochester when she believes he is sending her away thrills me every time. “It is my spirit which addresses your spirit, as if we had both passed through the grave and stood at the feet of God.” Wow! I’m dumbfounded when certain movie adaptations choose to leave out this scene or change the dialogue. Powerful stuff.

    • Yeah, old Jane and Rochester…. yum. The first version I saw of this was William Hurt as Rochester, and I thought he nailed it. Haughty, lonely, shy… smitten.
      I didn’t realize what feminists the Bronte were until I did some background reading on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Wow.

      • I never read “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” but I have the movie, and it is one to watch over and over. Very excellent and stars the wonderful Rupert Graves (among others). I was somewhat surprised to learn this was a Bronte book.

        I also have a movie called “The Inheritance” which is based on a story by Louisa May Alcott. Wow for this one too!

  4. What a great topic. I have had teachers who inspired me, who worked with me when I struggled and teachers who chalked me up to another less than average student. As an educator myself, I want to inspire and help guide the students into self-worth and pride and especially a love of reading.
    Reading did not come easily to me. I think I have a bit of dyslexia, although I’ve never been officially diagnosed. But there was a Robin Hood book that I checked out every time we went to the library. They eventually made me get another book, but in 3rd grade that was the book for me. I love to read now and there is a book by Madeleine L’Engle that was the one that drew me into love stories and imagination. This book is “A Ring of Endless Light”. It had all the everything my 15 year old self loved, poetry, marine biology, love and dolphins. I will never forget that Henry Vaughn poem either. It is a treasure that I hope to have in a high-school classroom of mine one day.
    I’m also going to see if the library has the Dot and the Line and take it to preschool with me.
    Thanks for such a great topic and such a wonderful appreciation of teachers.

  5. My older sister read “Charlotte’s Web” to me well before kindergarten, when she was teaching me my letters and numbers with the goal of my reading too. Add in a serious case of fascination with her horse and animals became people, not “dumb” creatures. So Charlotte holds a special place in my heart. A children’s picture book version of “Black Beauty” followed, and I segued into The Black Stallion series. Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden joined my fictional BFF circle, showing me smart, curious girls had more fun.
    Sis is currently reading “Charlotte” to her BFF’s five year old daughter, and I still have Black Beauty and all of the Black Stallion books in my library. Some days it is nice to pick one off the shelf and be ten again, with my greatest concern the Black’s winning the race or solving the mystery with my friends at my side.

    • I hated “Charlotte’s Web,” because of Charlotte’s fate. Hated “Stuart Little” because I thought that ending sucked too. All those great characters, all those adventures, and then…. THAT ending?! I did love the characters though, and there would probably be no such thing as a pet pig without Wilbur.

  6. The Austin family series by Madeline L’Engle is my favorite. I have my original copies and re-read them every couple of years.

  7. Oh, how can I pick just one?! My life is chronicled in books.

    Growing up my sister and I had the read along record player that would chime at the end of the page. Needless to say being sent to my room as punishment wasn’t such a bad thing. I don’t remember too many of those books other than they taught me to love reading.

    Then in 2nd grade, I discovered my favorite kids movie was based on a book. When I found out, I raided the school library until I found it. It was on endless renewal for me until I was given a copy. “Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of N.I.M.H.” is still one of my favorites.

    Fifth grade introduced me to “Where the Red Fern Grows”. I will always remember it as the first book that made me cry (and still does). It also fostered not only my love of reading, but my love of dogs. It was that book that made me research and discover service dogs and puppy raising. I haven’t looked back since!

    Freshman year of high school introduced me to my All-Time favorite book EVER: Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Such a Profound story of growing up and learning to deal with weighty adult issues through the eyes of a child. Advanced Placement English taught me to LOVE Shakespeare and look past the story of “Gatsby” for it’s true meaning.

    In college I discovered scientific writing through my Anthropology and Physics classes. “A Demon Haunted World”, “The Serpent and the Rainbow” and “Tales of a Medicine Man’s Apprentice” opened new worlds to me, both culturally and intellectually while “Physics of the Impossible” blew my mind with all it’s probabilities! Through both those courses of study I was introduced to the writing of Michael Crichton whose blend of history, fact and fiction still compelled me to research and learn more about that which he wrote.

    Work introduced me to crime stories and John Douglass’s “Mind Hunter” made me look at people in a whole new way.

    Every year, I take my favorite books and read them. I always get something different from them with each reading and the margins are filled with notes. “Mrs. Frisby”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Hamlet” and “Congo” will always be the ones that hold a special place for me. They are always on my bedside table and will never be removed. Only added to.

    • I hope you’re writing an autobiography of some sort, whether factual or fictionalized. One of my other fave’s is Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Loved that science, bastion of supposed rationality, was finally outed as a messy, human, social process after all. Paradigm shift, indeed.

      • Oh, I know it’s terrible!! Once I get started talking about bold & music there is no stopping me! But seriously… So many great books out there, how can I pick just one when they’ve all had such an impact?

  8. The first book that really stuck with me was The Indian in the Cupboard. When I was in 3rd grade our teacher read it out loud to the whole class over a couple weeks time. I just remember how much it caught my imagination! I made sure to buy that book for my sons when they were old enough to read.