By Charlotte Stobbe, one of Les Stobbe’s five grandchildren. She wrote The Journey to Neverland during her junior year of high school.
I never went to preschool. While most of the other children my age played with blocks of legos or chased other kids around a playground, I discovered a new world. Sitting on my mother’s lap, my two older sisters on either side of us on our dusty old couch, my mother read us books for hours in her low expressive voice. Lulled by the familiar murmur of her tone and the comfort of feeling safe and warm, I was always an avid listener. There, on that rusty-beige colored couch in my living room, my eyes were opened to a whole other layer of sight, and I was introduced to the wonder of the imagination.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Farmer Boy, The Giver, Anne of Green Gables, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins were the companions of my youth. To me, these were not characters in a book; they were real-life people from a world that could only be reached through the misty gate of literature. Their sorrows were deep and full of meaning; their laughter and love filled me with joy. As I stepped through that gate and into their world, I became a vital character in their existence. It was I who would warn them of approaching danger, encourage budding romance, and reprimand the villains who dared to bring evil into my blossoming world.
One year in elementary school, I was transported to the world of ancient Rome as my sisters and I listened to my mother read us Detectives in Togas, a brilliant book that concluded each chapter with an enthralling cliff-hanger. My sisters and I would implore my mother to read the next chapter, desperate to know what would happen next. When our wish was not granted, I would spend the day imagining what would occur in the next chapter. I would determine who the guilty victim was, clear away the charges against the innocent, bring characters together with a touch of romance, and create the perfect happy ending.
In addition to those many hours of reading on the couch, my family also experienced the world of literature during our numerous car rides. Since my homeschooling mother never let a moment be wasted when it could be spent learning or teaching, she decided that the car was an important time for us to expand our literary horizons. At first, she attempted to read to us while driving us to our various activities. Being an accomplished multi-tasker, she was able to read a book while glancing up to watch the road ahead of her. One day, however, wisdom arrived in the form of a middle-aged man who pulled us over and proceeded to lecture her on the dangers of reading while driving. My mother very politely apologized, drove away, and as soon as she was out of sight of the stranger, pulled out the book again.
Thankfully for our safety, it soon became clear to my mother that she could not simultaneously drive, settle disputes, feed children, and read to us, without a certain degree of difficulty. Therefore, my industrious mother decided to switch to books on tape. My childhood memories of car rides are now associated with the sounds of a tape flipping sides, getting stuck, or being rewound. My sisters and I came to dread the high, chipmunk sound the narrator made when a tape was warped. My mother mastered the art of unraveling and carefully untwisting a mangled library tape by carefully inserting a pencil into one of the holes. Even if we were traveling by car for only three minutes, my sisters and I would beg my mother to let us listen to the latest classic. The voices of narrators soon became recognizable to us, and as a book on tape began, we would shout: “Isn’t that the girl who narrated Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes?” or “This sounds like the guy from Freddy the Detective!”
Books on tape strengthened my literary foundation, but more importantly they developed my imagination. Our long car rides to Florida, Montana, Tennessee, and Colorado were marked by characters who invited me to journey with them to the ends of the earth and beyond. I would act out the story as the narrator related descriptions and movements, and I would anticipate cliché long-expected lines. I laughed my way through the humorous parts of The Count of Monte Cristo, and sobbed my heart out when Beth died in Little Women. In later years, I admonished Pip to relinquish his great expectations and stay away from Estella, but I forgave him once his unconditional love softened her heart of stone. I loved every kind of literature—romance, autobiography, historical fiction, books that ended in beautiful harmony, and books that ended in a heart-breaking tragedy.
Although that was many years ago, I have not changed much. Now I lie on my bed, waiting to hear Peter Pan’s crow that will beckon me to follow him through the sky to Neverland. On starry nights, I wander through the trees searching for Tinkerbelle’s light and that “second star to the right” that will lead me to Peter’s dwelling. I always wipe away a tear and suppress a shiver when an agonized Peter returns to find Wendy all grown up, but I sigh with contentment when he and an innocent Jane fly away for the first time. Like Peter Pan, I will never grow up; my heart will always be filled with the dreams and hopes of youth that I discover in the books that I read.