A 10-year-old girl, the second shortest in her class, sits on the front step of her home and trav- els to India.
It is a favorite place, this walkway step, the one nearest the street. Helena Woznicki likes the quiet of the summer evening and the light from the setting sun. She knows she won't be disturbed, not by the clatter of dinner dishes being cleared, not by the blare of television, or even by her sister Eva, who just turned 7.
From this concrete perch in Anneslie, Helena has seen the world. She has visited with a spider named Charlotte, solved murder mysteries, danced ballet, talked with mice, galloped with horses and flown alongside fairies.
Put a book in front of Helena and you won't hear from her for hours. In summer, this is especially true. Without the burden of homework and required reading, she gobbles up books like a giant with a taste for paper.
This evening, she is reading Gay-Neck by Dhan Gopal Mukerji. It's about a carrier pigeon enlisted into military service during World War I. At the moment, she is exploring the Himalayas, her large brown eyes drifting along Page 90.
At this rate, she will probably consume the 191-page tome in another day. She has eight more library books piled beside her bed. That might last her two weeks. Then it's back to the Towson library with her grandmother.
Helena is the daughter of book-lovers. Both Lisa and E.J. Woznicki are Baltimore County librarians. They read to her before she could walk. She had picture books in the crib. By kindergarten, she was sounding out billboards from her car seat. Maybe it was in the genes.
It is hard to imagine Helena not reading. It's by far her favorite thing to do. At night, she falls asleep with a book in her hand. Her mother usually wanders into her room to turn off the bedside lamp.
Helena considers summer the best season for reading. Lots of free time. Long, sultry days. When it's too hot to sit outside, she retreats to a basement sofa.
She picks out her books herself -- enough to last the three weeks between library trips. Often, she just wanders through the stacks looking for an interesting title. Her favorite books feature dogs or other animals. She likes fantasy, too. Tuck Everlasting, about a family that lives forever, is one of her favorites.
But duty calls. Eva and her parents will soon be headed to the snowball stand down the street. Helena stops reading. Smiling, she glances up at the cloudless sky and across the street at an elderly neighbor planting flowers. A gentle wind causes the pages to flutter. She reaches for her bookmark, a gift from her mother. On it, a rabbit is peering over his glasses. Above him are the words "I've read this far."