THERE'S an intensity to reading in childhood one never quite recaptures as an adult. Maybe that's why I remember so vividly the first book I ever read to myself -- not so much the plot and characters but the feeling of being drawn into, immersed in Little Lord Fauntleroy.

I can't recall why that was my choice, although I do remember some rather dreamily Victorian full-color plates in the novel which might have had something to do with its appeal. Or maybe I was guided to the book by Miss White the local librarian, who ruled her domain on the second floor above town's movie theater with ferocious glances over her spectacles and loud "SH-H-Hs". She terrified us all, but she knew her children's classics and her clientele.

Today I would have been steered clear of such a book, since it was clearly above my "reading level" at age 8. But in those days no one cared about such things, and the challenge was part of the fun.

And so I began the story, a fairy tale really, of the little boy Cedric who melts the heart of his stuffy and sententious grandfather the Earl. I read slowly, prone on the living room sofa in the torpor of a deep South summer. I slogged through the polysyllabics like "Do-rin-court," and "stu-pen-dous," and was no doubt completely stumped by "ingenuous" and "boisterous." But I could read, or made myself read, enough to be transported into another realm. I wasn't so much "lost" in the world of Little Lord Fauntleroy, since events there seemed to have a very clear direction, as "lost" to my own world. And that was the charm of it all.

Like many mind-altering experiences, reading silently and alone can become an addiction. It did in my case. And for that I will always be grateful to Frances Hodgson Burnett.