EUGENE — Meringue.
"M-E-R-I-N-G-U-E," 10-year-old Madeline Mervine spells confidently.
The fifth-grader at Meadow View School in west Eugene's Bethel School District is a master speller. She insists she can spell any word she's read.
"You didn't know how to spell 'pulchritude,' " said her mother, Kendra Mervine.
"Yes I did," Madeline replied while straightening her spine, preparing to spell the synonym for beauty. "P-U-L-C-H-R-I-T-U-D-E."
Madeline will represent Lane County elementary school students at the state spelling bee next weekend at the Oregon State Fair. The spelling whiz won first place in the county competition in May, beating about 20 other children.
Her secret? Reading.
"I read books," she said. "All kinds. I love books. I love all books."
She's read everything from a children's version of "Moby Dick" to all 13 of Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events." She loves Nancy Drew mysteries, "Little Women," "The Jungle Book" and "Charlotte's Web."
Madeline doesn't remember how many books she's read in the past year. She doesn't even remember how many books she's read in the past week. "I spend most of the day, well, year, reading," she said.
Madeline, who earned the nickname "Book Worm" at a summer camp this year, hasn't practiced spelling words for the state competition. She just reads. Sometimes, she'll read a dictionary.
Madeline has competed twice in the Oregon Battle of the Books — a statewide reading comprehension competition for children in grades three through 12. She read 16 books in a team of four and had to answer questions about the books. Her team didn't do so well, though.
Madeline's father, Mike Mervine, said he and his wife frequently read to Madeline when she was a baby.
The first book they read to her was one of the "Madeline" books, a series by Ludwig Bemelmans.
"She would sit there and be intent on listening to the whole story," Mike Mervine said. "By the time she was 3, she would memorize books we read to her."
Madeline said she wants to become an editor for a publishing company one day. That way, she'd catch every spelling error and get to read more books, she said.
Madeline's book collection covers her bedroom floor. Some pages are falling out of her juice-stained copy of "The Ersatz Elevator" — the sixth book in Snicket's series.
"She reads them over and over and over again," her mother said.
Madeline said she doesn't know why she loves to read so much. Sometimes, she'll read to her 2-year-old brother, Max. "It came naturally to me," she said. "It's, well, hard to explain."
In third grade, she was frequently selected to read book passages out loud because her teacher was impressed that she knew how to pronounce and define the word "linger."
Her favorite word is "literature," she said, because it sounds nice. Plus, she likes literature.
Madeline's reading habit, however, can keep her from doing tasks. Her mother said she never does her homework. "I just don't want to stop reading," Madeline said. "I just want to read so much."
Spelling champ's secret? Reading, and lots of it
EUGENE — Meringue.