Sunday, December 11, 2011

Desperately Seeking Books!

  I taught myself to read (from televison commercials) when I was three.  No big deal. I thought everyone taught themself how to read, like learning to ride a bike or brush your teeth.  What was a big deal was finding something to read.  I read street signs, TV commercials, medicine bottles, cereal boxes, but what I wanted was books.

  Books were not so easy to come by in the late 50's early 60's if you were a middle class kid living a middle class suburb. Hard to believe...but if unless you lived in a big city, or were just really lucky, there were no book stores. No Amazon.  No chain stores. Not even libraries.

   OK, I had some Golden Books (the grocery cash register impulse buy before there were People, US and The National Enquirer.) Just to weigh in, my favorite Golden Book was Richard Scarry's Bunny Book. My aunt gave us her set of Childcraft.  I didn't stop with the poems, fairytales and novel excerpts. I was so book hungry, I read all the child psychology and child rearing volumes as well.  I was probably the only kid in first grade who could use the term "sibling rivalry" in a sentence. My eldest cousin gave me a beautiful anthology of children's literature that I still have (along with the Childcraft, 1948 edition). By first grade I had discovered the "book department" at E.J. Korvette's and Zayre's, which consisted entirely of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries.

  That was it. That was all there was. I got desperate enough to buy "antique" editions of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Honey Bunch when my mom took fou antiquing with her.

   So where were the books?  A very good question. The only bookstore I knew was the Scribner bookstore in the Chicago Loop, where I saw my allergist four times a year. (My mother told me it was a museum of could look but you couldn't buy.  She said the same thing about Marshall Field's toy department.) Our 'burbs did not have libraries. The elementary schools did not have libraries. They had a shelf in the back of the room with maybe twenty books, that was designated "the classroom library."  When my teeny tiny town finally opened a library, it was a closet-sized space, wedged between a pizza parlor and a dry-cleaners. (The smell of mozzarella and dry-cleaning fluid can still make me misty-eyed.) Because the children's section consisted of one book case, I was only allowed to check out two books at a time. I often finished the first book on the ride home in the car. Then we moved to another town that literally had no library. However, for some reason, in the summer, you could check books out of the junior high school library. Which I did.

    The only things that kept me sane were the book clubs. The Scholastic Book Club flyers that were passed out in class were the high point of any school week.  I spent hours selecting and reselecting the two dollars worth of books I was allowed each time. (Considering the top price for a book was 45 cents, I made the most of those two bucks!) I still have those brittle paperback copies of the Lee Wyndham Susie ballet books (beginning a life-long love of dance), and assorted Newbery titles (my favorite was Blue Willow by Doris Gates.)  The Weekly Reader also had a book club that sent hard covers, one a month (no choice allowed; they just sent "appropriate grade level reading.") I saved those as well--Ruth Gannett's My Father's Dragon, C.W. Anderson's Whitey and Josie books, Miska Miles' Dusty and the Fiddlers and Parsifal Rides the Time Wave by Nell Chenault. Some of these were not books I would have chosen myself, but they were books and I read and re-read and cherished them.

    Every now and then I stumbled across a sympathetic soul. My father was tracking down the complete set of Will Durant's History of Civilization in Chicago's used bookstores. He would sneak me in whatever he found in the children's section...mostly biographies. (And what do I read today, besides children's books?  Biographies and memoirs.) One of my aunt's had fallen heir to a large collection of children's books from the 1920's that she passed along to me.  My grandmother had an odd copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn floating around her house that she gave me. (My first real adult book...and one of my all time favorites.) And as I have mentioned in other blogs, for Chirstmas my dad gave me hardcovers of Charlotte's Web and Mary Calhoun's Depend on Katie John.

   We moved to Jackson, Mississippi when I was ten. Since all the adults in my life acted as if we were moving to The End of the Earth, I figured there would be no libraries. Wrong!

   Not only was there a library, but there were branch libraries, although I always preferred the spacious children's room of the main library downtown.  Not only that, but you could check out as many books as you could carry.  I learned to stagger out the door with enormous stacks of books (thus preparing me for my future career as a librarian).  Just for a bonus, all my schools had excellent libraries as well.

   Still, the only bookstores around where used paperback trade-in places, which I visited on my way home from the library.  They were heavy on Harlequin and Grace Livingston Hill romances, but I managed to find some classics and the books that were made into movies. The first real bookstore I encountered was Lemuria Books, which opened while I was in high school.  True heaven!  Lemuria has changed locations three times since that first visit, but it is still alive and thriving, and I visit (and pillage) every time I visit my dad. (I also had my first book signing there, too.)  Sometimes I go there to think...kind of like church.  Sometimes I sit in the same chair that my hometown idol, Eudora Welty, also sat in.

   Given my book "deprived" childhood, it is no surprise that I now own more books than some branch libraries. I took them with me when we moved to Bangkok in 1997, because I knew there was no English language library, and only one Japanese-owned, English language bookstore. Movers pale whenever we relocate. ("Books are heavy," someone always comments in a glum sort of way.) I can't help it. I am a compulsive reader, and life doesn't seem worth living if I don't have a book (or two or three) that I am currently reading.

   So let's hear it for First Book!!! There are still children out there with no ready access to books, let alone the opportunity to own one. I like to think that your responses to our blog, will ease the pain of another frustrated bookworm out there.  So get on board with our Holiday Donation!  For every blog comment we receive (one per person, please and span doesn't count), we will donate $1 to First Book, which provides books to low-income children.  We all love books here, right?  Remember the thrill of the very first book you owned?  Share that thrill with the rest of us on the blog, and help make another reading child's wish come true.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Jane Heitman Healy said...

Mary Ann, Thanks for sharing how your love of books grew--and where! I grew up in a very small town that did not have a library, but somehow my friends and I had books and traded them among ourselves--Bobbsey Twins, Happy Hollisters, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden--the lives of those kids were so much more exciting than mine! Here's to books for every child!

nolajazz said...

I've worked with First Book before -they're great!

Sherry York said...

Loved Scholastic Book Club! I used my allowance to buy books.

Lived in the country and did not have access to a public library.

Read from A to Z the set of encyclopedias my stepmother bought at the grocery store. Also read her non-age-appropriate books.

During school, I read all the books in the classroom libraries, which were usually just one shelf.

Every kid should have access to lots of books!

Can you tell I'm a librarian? LOL

Linda B said...

I loved your memories of books and think it's so interesting how those of us who are crazed readers and lovers of books became that way. I was lucky enough to have family who read to me and who bought me books plus took me to libraries. I have written about my favorite memory, the bookmobile, which came to our little town every three weeks. I read so much that I talked them into letting me have 'extra' & the wonderful librarian that drove the mobile and knew books helped me find so many that I enjoyed. One early group loved were the Betsy-Tacy series, & that is also when I discovered there were series. Oh joy! I recently found an old copy and re-read it. They are still delightful, but dated of course. Thanks for asking for a memory!

MGJ said...

I grew up in a small town, but we were very fortunate to have a small, dusty library, just across the street and down the block from my grandmother and grandfather's house. I visited there often. Later, a new library was built, and eventually I was employed there as a high school student. My love for libraries and books has continued to grow over the years, and now I am a school library coordinator for my state. Let's continue to put books into kids' hands!

Potter County Library said...

Our school didn't have a library in my early days and our town was so small that the librarian was a volunteer and the books were all donations. But they had enough books to get me started. I'll never forget that little white building and the animal stories by Thornton W. Burgess.

Julie Hedlund said...

This post sure does take me back! I was born in the early 70s and lived in a small town in Northern Michigan. My kids can't believe it when I tell them what a precious commodity a book was back then. I know that's why I read and re-read the same books over and over again.

Living in the days of mega-stores, online stores and books-in-grocery stores, it's hard to imagine this. I'm glad books are no longer scarce overall, but thanks to your post, we remember that they still are for some people. First Book does great work. I've been a supporter of theirs for a long time. Thanks for shining the light on them at this time of year!

Louann Mattes Brown said...

My mother, an orphan, survived her childhood by reading. When I came along there was rarely a trip to the grocery store without a new golden book tucked into the cart. (My favorite was Dr. Dan the Bandage Man…it came complete with Band-Aid bandages!) Lucky for me, as I got older, she subscribed to Doubleday’s children’s book-of-the-month club, Junior Deluxe Editions. I read Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Treasure Island, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Hans Brinker and the Sliver Skates and more. Our huge library downtown sent bookmobiles out to the neighborhood, which kept us all going when school wasn’t in session. When I was young, I never imagined kids without books. Thanks Teaching Authors for taking on this project!

Anonymous said...

great idea

Lynette Christensen said...

As the oldest child in a family of six children, I loved the library for its quietness and the smell of the books. We were lucky to have a Carnegie Library in our small town in SD. My parents had Childcraft also and I still have my favorite volumes today. My grandmother encouraged my love of reading and my junior high librarian started me on a lifetime of working in libraries. My mom always said I was lucky to have found a profession I loved--librarian. My early favorites were also Blue Willow and Depend on Katie John. I now have too many favorites to list here...thanks for helping children get books in their hands.

Brenda said...

Happy Holidays Teaching Authors! I love this way of supporting First Book. :-)

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

What a great thing you guys are doing. Thanks.

Jessica Leader said...

...and the more books kids have in their homes, the likelier they are to be better readers. Thank you for doing this campaign! I'm happy to comment.

Patti L Brown said...

First Book is a great organization, and you guys are doing a wonderful thing. Cheers to you for bringing books--the gifts that keep on giving!--to children who are in desperate need. Great job!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to the power of books in a child's life. I had to chuckle. My husband and I own several bookcases full of books, and every time we move, the movers complain about how many books we have. I wouldn't give them up, though. One of my treasured memories is reading Chekov, Shakespeare and Flaubert from my parents' collection as a young girl trying to find something to read. Though I've sworn off purchasing books for myself (yay libraries!), I now indulge my passion by buying oodles of children's books for my two boys. They need to learn how to read, of course!

Sarah Mullen Gilbert said...

Oh how I loved Scholastic Book Club! I still have my copies of Blue Willow, the Wayside School books, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I was so lucky because my mom, a teacher, always had the best picture books and could bring them home for the summer. Thank you for bringing back such great memories and for being so generous. Good luck!

Augusta Scattergood said...

I grew up in a small town in Mississippi that also had a terrific library. But I had a grandmother who taught 4th grade and thought books made the best presents. I loved Nancy Drew; she presented Alice in Wonderland. Both made me happy.

These are great posts and good for you bloggers for donating to such a very worthy cause.