Meet Clara, my grand niece. Like all my “grands,” she’s amazing.

Clara and her sister Cassie decorate Christmas cookies

Clara loves to read. She estimates she read fifty books in 2013. She’s eleven years old and attends Ephrata (Pennsylvania) Intermediate School.

She bubbles with enthusiasm when asked about what she likes in books. But I was also warned by her Grandma Sue (my sister) that Clara doesn’t mind telling you when she doesn’t like something. So, even though I wanted a youthful reader’s opinion of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, I was just a little nervous when she and I sat down to talk.

Clara perched on the edge of the sofa at her Grandma's house. The photo hanging on the wall is of the farm her dad Andy is now in charge of.

Or I should say. Clara talked I listened and took notes.

The first thing I learned helped me relax: “My favorite book is Grace, Gold, and Glory My Leap of Faith about Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas. I like autobiographies. Real people’s life stories.”

Phew. That’s good, I thought.

I asked if she can read only her favorite kind of book.

“Oh no,” she said. “We have to pick from nine different genres.”

Genres??!! She’s eleven years old. I think I learned that word in college.

She must have a very good teacher, I thought. Turns out that her reports have to include the name, author, genre, date finished, and a rating on a scale of 1-10.

Oh boy.

So, I went for it: “What score did you give Blush?”

Nonchalantly she said, “A ten.”

My smile and my deep breath made Clara smile too.

“Tell me the stories in the book you liked best,” I requested.

“How you became a red bird instead of a blue bird in second grade,” she blurted out immediately. “I liked you the best when you were my age or younger. I liked the tobacco worm story, too.”

I laughed.

“So, Clara, would you bite a worm in two for five dollars?”

Asking Clara about that worm


“How about twenty-five dollars?”

Clara hesitated for a second, then she smiled and shook her head yes.

She’s a girl after my own heart.

Do you know any young readers? Were you a young reader yourself? What genre did you like, and what was your favorite book?

Posted in

Shirley Showalter


  1. Marian Beaman on December 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Delightful girl! Delightful post!

    My favorite book as a child was Blue Willow by Doris Gates. I also liked the Elson Junior Literature – Book One by Elson, Keck, and Burris (I know this because I’m looking at the book now) not because of the stories as much as the wonderful etchings, especially the one of Joan of Arc. As a teen it was Jane Eyre, also illustrated. Wow, what a romance for a plain Mennonite girl to become engrossed in.

    Clara sounds like a prodigy! All my grand-children are ravenous readers too; Curtis read all the Harry Potter books between ages 6 and 7. I don’t think children in our era even learned to read before first grade. How times have changed, in a good way, I guess.

    • shirleyhs on December 13, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      At least some changes are good ones! Learning to read early allows children to be exposed to the joy of travel in the mind and imagination that is only possible when we read.

      I’m not familiar with either one of your books, but I love looking them up and learning more about them.

      I can see you reading Jane Eyre with your eyes wide open and your cover fastened securely on your head. You would have made Charlotte Bronte proud.

  2. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on December 13, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Hooray for farm girls who read books!

    My older sisters taught me how to read before I went to school (there was no kindergarten for country children), and my favorites varied according to my age.

    Our country church library supplied me with books to check out over and over again. When the church closed, books were divied out, and I ended up with one that I am now reading to Samuel, a first grader who stays with me after school one day per week.

    The checkout card from the church library is still attached to the book, and my name is both first and last on the card.

    The book is SHOO-FLY GIRL by Lois Lenski. I also loved A GOIN TO THE WESTWARD and JUDY’S JOURNEY and others by Lois Lenski. Conversations between characters help to make her books come alive.

  3. shirleyhs on December 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    You were a Lois Lenski girl all the way. Interestingly, you made your own journey west.

    It must be lovely, but a little sad, too, to hold a book that comes from a closed church. So glad you have it and not someone who wouldn’t appreciate it as much.

  4. Carol Bodensteiner on December 13, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Terrific story, Shirley. You passed a big hurdle with flying colors! It’s so gratifying to learn that your stories resonate with your niece. My niece read the stories in my book to her children – one chapter a day. It was a way for them to get to know their grandmother (my sister, Jane) better and they loved it. I bet lots of kids will be reading BLUSH before long.

    • shirleyhs on December 13, 2013 at 6:54 pm

      I love that idea of nieces reading the way my mother read to us — one chapter a day. I’ll bet she hears the same plea at the end: “Just one more chapter, please!”

      Have you found any good ways to reach parents, teachers, librarians, etc. who buy books for children? Both our books would be perfect for the 10 years and older crowd.

      So far, most of my readers have been more than 50 years old. How about yours?

  5. Melodie Davis on December 14, 2013 at 6:13 am

    How neat for a candid book review from an under 20! It is family members’ responses that sometimes scare me most. Thanks for taking us into this delightful conversation and I’m betting Clara loves it too.

    My strongest memory of early reading is Little House on the Prairie –funny how one strong memory is of the books thick paper/pages — a plump book with plump paper. You don’t find books with that heavy substantial paper any more.

    • shirleyhs on December 14, 2013 at 9:17 am

      Melodie, you are so right about memoir and family. Almost everyone I know who writes in this genre feels least confident when loved ones who have their own stories read ours.

      And I love the description “a plump book with plump paper.” Yes, I remember that heft in the hand, that feeling of substance.

      Thanks for the comment.

  6. Sharon Lippincott on December 14, 2013 at 7:40 am

    I totally understand your trepidation, and am not surprised that she loved the book. What fun that someone took pictures of this event. I may see if my eight-year-old granddaughter is ready to read some of the stories I’ve written when she comes to visit soon. She is also a precocious reader, but not sure what that means.Thanks for the inspiration.

    • shirleyhs on December 14, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Sharon, thanks for your comment and encouragement. I hope your granddaughter loves to read your stories. And if she’s still too young for them, I know she will love hearing you read them to her. Then she can ask questions and cuddle. Making reading memories leads is more important than being labeled a “precocious” reader. I know you will give your granddaughter many wonderful memories with books.

  7. Laurie Buchanan on December 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Shirley – Oh how FUN for you to get this perspective โ€” first hand โ€” of your book!

    My BOOKaholism started in fifth grade. My favorite books from childhood:

    Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh
    A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’engle
    Time at the Top – Edward Ormondroyd
    Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson
    Black and Blue Magic – Zilpha Keatley Snyder

    To this day I’m like Clara โ€” a voracious reader!

    • shirleyhs on December 14, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      It was fun indeed, Laurie. You had great taste as a child reader. I only read A Wrinkle in Time and the rest of the trilogy when my own children were young. I also got to hear and talk with Madeleine L’Engle several times at Goshen College. A great woman and great writer.

      Now my grandchildren are spurring me on to find more classics. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Laurie Buchanan on December 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm

        Shirley – depending on your grandchildren’s ages, another FANTASTIC book (one of my now 30-year-old son’s favorites) was THRUMP-0-MOTO by James Clavell with PHENOMENAL illustrations by George Sharp.

        There’s a bit of a scary part, and a great elfin character by the name of Rednosedbeerdrinker.

  8. Clif Hostetler on December 14, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    If I had been required to write book reviews as a student according to the rules that she has, I could have grown up to be a professional book reviewer.

    $5 to $25 — Sounds like inflation at work here.

  9. shirleyhs on December 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    But Clif, you ARE a professional reviewer. Those Goodreads review would make a book by now, and a good one, too.

    I almost figured out the rate of inflation to make your point above, but I didn’t want Clara to think she was selling her services too cheaply. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Susan Neufeldt on December 14, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    While my grandson is just beginning to read, he is often read to, and surprising things pop out of him. I do not think they are from school because his kindergarten class is conducted 90% in Spanish. And we haven’t said them to him. Nonetheless, some recent phrases appeared.

    When told by his mother that they were staying home for a bit, he said, “Good. That will afford me the opportunity to take a nap.” And then yesterday, after dumping a huge array of blocks on the floor, he waved his hands in their direction and said, “Voila!” Your granddaughter’s vocabulary reminds me of the way in which kids are little sponges!

    • shirleyhs on December 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      Susan, this story made me laugh!

      And it made me eager to see Owen again this Christmas. I think he’s ready for real conversations. Maybe it will afford him the opportunity to say “Voila!” What a blessing it is to have children in our lives.

      You have three copies of Blush coming your way. Thanks so much for traveling this journey with me. I’m touched.

  11. Elfrieda Schroeder on December 14, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Oh yes, I was a young reader, but there was a problem. In our small village in Paraguay there were no books available that were especially written for children. We had the Bible, the hymnal and the Martyr’s Mirror. I finished reading them all by the time I was eight years old. Then my grandmother sent a special page for children from a Mennonite paper in Canada. It had a story that always ended with “Fortsetzung folgt” (to be continued) and oh, how I looked forward to that next paper! I was only introduced to the classics like Anne of Green Gables when I was ten years old and had learned to read English in Canada. That was a whole new world!

    • shirleyhs on December 16, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Elfrieda, wow. Your reading story is incredible and makes me so grateful to have access to as many books as I can read (ordinarily viewed as a problem of too many books, too little time). No wonder that you are such an avid reader now. By the age of ten you had mastered two languages and had developed a deep, deep thirst for the written word. Blessings to you and yours this Christmas season.

  12. Richard Gilbert on December 16, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Charming. The pictures too. It must have been so neat for her to read a story of a girl so much like herself in many ways. And you faced the writer’s toughest critic, a kid!

    • shirleyhs on December 17, 2013 at 1:02 pm

      Thanks, Richard. I don’t know how much of herself she saw in “Rosy Cheeks,” but I surely see a lot of myself in her. ๐Ÿ™‚

      And it was truly fun to get her opinion. I knew it would be honest.

  13. shirleyhs on December 17, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Clara’s brother Seth created a great video about their family farm and what motivates them to keep working the long hours to bring milk to your table. Super work, Seth!

  14. Barbara McDowell Whitt on December 17, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Shirley, your granddaughter Clara is both spunky and beautiful. I can see why she is a girl after your own heart. Her sister Cassie is a cutie and sweetie, too.

    I was the oldest of four daughters. When we were 1, 3, 5 and 7 our mother began ordering books from the Iowa State Traveling Library. I remember lying on a blanket in the yard of our farm in Iowa with the latest box of 10 or 12 books to look at while we took our daily rest time. The first book I read, and my favorite, was The Little House in the Big Woods.

  15. shirleyhs on December 17, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Barbara, I can just imagine how exciting it was to get that box of books as a child. And one of the highest compliments my book receives is that it reminds readers of the Little House books. Thanks for the comment!

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