Sunday Afternoon Rocking

The Readers' Legacy


"Copper-Toed Boots!", she exclaimed, "See if they have that one! And Little Women! And The Boxcar Children.that one too!" Later her answer was, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.see if they have that!" The titles had come in response to my own asking, "What should I check out this week? What did you read when you were my age?" And so it was, that in my season, I too enjoyed Copper-Toed Boots, The Boxcar Children, Little Women, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and any other myriad number of titles remembered by my mother. Later my mother would tell me how her own mother had read Zane Gray novels late into the night aloud to my grandfather, and I would have to read all of those as well.

I cannot remember a time when books were not a part of our lives. Not that we were any well read family, or knowledgeable of the great classics, but simply that we read. A lot. Television was not a center of entertainment in our home, primarily because I was quite a big girl when we could first afford one. Even then it was viewed by some sense of mistrust by my parents, who thought it might be a "time waster" if allowed to be on very often. Books, on the other hand, could be excused from creating diversion, for the simple reason that my parents had known what it was to hunger for them. There were not great numbers of books in our home, for we could ill afford them. The titles were not of lofty academic stature, for none of my family was particularly academically inclined. But books there were, and very early I was introduced to the public library where hours of enjoyment could be had for no price at all. Well I remember my first "real book" of my very own. I had many "Little Golden" books, mostly arriving in my hands one or two at a time at Christmas or a birthday, but a "real book", a hard covered one, a chapter book, no. By third grade, someone had introduced me to the Nancy Drew mysteries, and voraciously I consumed all I could locate. Having exhausted the meager supply at the public library, having exhausted the supply of all my more fortunate friends, and living in an age with no school library available, I felt a little like Abraham Lincoln, hungry for a book, willing to walk miles to get one, but no more of that genre in sight. I waylaid my hunger, and branched out into whatever the library had available on my level that I had not yet read. It was a good thing I was that "hungry", for I discovered much I might not have had my hunger been too easily satiated.

Several times a year we would make a trek to relatives in Tennessee, where doting aunts waited anxiously to gauge the growth in size and character of one of their only two nieces. And typically, one of the aunts had already planned a shopping excursion. Such shopping excursions were not extravagant by the standards many of today's children gauge, but in that time and place they were quite a novelty and adventure for me. "And what would you like to have this time?", she asked, eyes twinkling. She enjoyed giving as much as anyone I ever knew. I scarcely dared to breathe as I answered her. "A book," I said, "A REAL book, with hard covers and chapters and everything! A Nancy Drew book, please?" Sagely, she agreed that was a wise choice, but she refused to visit the bookstore until the very last day of my visit, that I might not "have my nose in a book" the entire time I was to be visiting.

I will never forget the joy and drama of the occasion of being the proud owner of a book, a new book, a book with chapters, a book with a hard cover. And with wonder, I literally DID bury my nose in that book all the way home, sniffing the fresh new smell with delight, running my hands again and again over that cover and thinking, "This is mine! This book really belongs to me!" It was The Mystery of the Whispering Statue.and yes, I still have it.

Later my children would ask, "What should I check out this week? What did you read when you were my age?" And the story continued, I hope it never has an end.

Books became a large part of my life. Somewhere along the line, I even evolved out of "junk" and made my reading diet a more balanced one, sprinkled with a goodly number of nonfiction and classics. I have worked in a public library, a high school library, a junior high library, a middle school library, and a number of elementary school libraries. In fact, I have been a librarian for nigh on thirty years. I would be hard pressed to say how many I have read, and I have actually written a few. And a book never ceases to delight me. My home is filled with them, stacked with them, literally overrun with them. Ask me if I would rather spend my "mad money" on a shopping trip to the mall, or a trip to the bookstore, and there is no question what the answer would be. My children had at their fingertips virtually any classic, any poetry, a bit on virtually any topic, and plenty of "junk" besides. They never
knew a time when they were not the owner of a "real book". It was a wonderful thing. I work in a school library with over 14000 books.and it is a wonderful thing. Books are everywhere, they can be picked up for pennies at a flea market, a yard sale, a Goodwill store. And something is missing.

There are, as there have always been, those who value books, those who cherish books. But few there are who know how it is to HUNGER for books. There is a feast on the table. Yet less than 10% of our nation's population take advantage of free public libraries, few children spend their leisure time reading, adults log hundreds of hours watching a television but are hard pressed to say when they last read a book from cover to cover. I don't know anyone who ever walked a mile to borrow a book, or even wanted to. I worry sometimes, with seemingly so few"reading role models" if we might be raising a generation of children who can never get an answer to the question, "What should I check out this week? What did you read when you were my age?" And I worry sometimes, how often the question is asked. What a shame to have such a feast on the table, and so few who notice it is there.

I hope my grandchildren ask the question. I want to tell them about Copper-Toed Boots, and The Boxcar Children, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I want to tell them about Little Women, and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come. And if they would like, Nana would love to take them to a bookstore and get them a book of their very own, a real one, with chapters, and hard covers. Nana would love to see them hungry for a book. And Nana would love to know that when they grow up, their children will ask the same question their great grandmother did.

I know my audience. You read, or you would not bother to wish to receive this column. Many of you are of a generation who well knows what it was to "hunger" for a book, and no feast on the table. I have no grandchildren as of yet, but many of you do. Please, if you haven't already, won't you tell them what you read when you were their age?

Just a thought,

Copyright ©2001JanPhilpot



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Thanks, jan)