The first book I remember holding had a floppy, red cloth cover, pinked edges and pictures that had been painted on with a thick, shiny substance that made the center of each page stiff and slightly sticky. I much preferred the picture books my father read to me. They had gaudy pictures of farm animals and told stories about Little Red Hen and Chicken Little and Little Black Sambo. I thought Sambo very enterprising and loved the moment when the tigers ran themselves into a pool of butter. How surprised I was much later to hear that the story was considered racist.

    We also had a thick book with no pictures called Laing’s Blue Fairy Book. These stories, retellings from The Brothers Grimm, created terrifying pictures in my mind. My most vivid early memory, from when I was four or five, comes from one of those stories. My mother had called me in from playing in the snow, probably around four in the afternoon as it was beginning to get dark. We lived on the second floor of a small apartment building

and to reach our apartment I had to pass the entranceway to the dark first floor hallway, a square off which opened four apartments. Weighted down by my wet, woollen snowsuit and buckled galoshes, I trudged up the stairs toward that looming black doorway. Then I saw her. The witch from Hansel and Gretel, eyes glowing, bony hand reaching. Waiting for me to come close enough. I wasn’t a

screeching type of child but inside my head, as I scrambled past and up the next flight, tripping over my cumbersome boots, I was wailing like a banshee.

    I never trusted that doorway again. For months, until spring sunlight dispelled the gloom, I scuttled past the dark doorway clinging to the far wall, my heart beating wildly. There was no comforting myself with the thought that the witch lived only in a story. For me, book characters were as real as the people I talked to every day.