September 1, 2001
Winner of the Sarajane Beal Award for Volunteer Excellence in 2004.
Elizabeth Ruskauff describes how a love of books and reading influenced her life:
I had my first experience with books written specifically for young people at the age of 14. I was babysitting and stumbled upon the “Cherry Ames” series in which the heroic nurse saves the day. Inevitably I was led to the Nancy Drew mysteries. These were easy reads, and I was done in a flash. Of course, I wanted more. More wasn’t easy to come by in the small town in Wisconsin where I grew up. There was no bookstore. My school had no library. My education was “no frills” and I found textbooks dull.
That scarcity may account for my love of language, especially as used by Shakespeare. I was captivated by the language of his plays. Rich, layered, full of nuance and humor. I also love Jane Austen; the way she uses language to paint pictures and define characters. You practically feel their presence.
I received my primary school education in a world very different than the one we live in now. In the late 1930s children received little personal attention from a teacher. Kids who could not read well were considered slow. Hinderances—poor vision, dyslexia—weren’t commonly considered. There wasn’t much effort to discern the special, unique interest and talents of children and to appeal to those interests through literature. I like Page Ahead’s approach: supplying kids with new books and with the opportunity to choose those books.
As a young adult, I began to see touring productions of musicals. I found I had no trouble suspending disbelief. Literature and theatre are somewhat similar: in books, you see the action in your head; in theatre, you see it on stage. My life has given me lots of practice in living in my mind, which gives me an easy ability to enter the world of fiction. I have placed myself smack dab in the center of Seattle, because of access to the cultural opportunities that feed my soul. Shakespeare performed on a bare stage—what could be better? Well, perhaps cheesecake at intermission.