Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I Could'a Been a Librarian

I didn't like Dr. Suess.

Oh, except for The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and One Fish Two Fish. Truthfully, by the time his books were really, really popular in school libraries I was older than the target audience. I remember my high school biology students blinking at me in disbelief when I told them I hadn't read The Lorax because it was published when I was in high school.

So what was I reading as a child back in the Pleistocene? The World Book Encyclopedia  -- I am not kidding! I only had two "American" books: a children's book about a spaniel and hollyhocks (not The Poky Little Puppy, which I didn't read until I was a teacher); and an alphabet book -- I recall imitating my immigrant father's accent on the V and Y.

No fairly tales -- I didn't know a thing about Mother Goose until I started school. My parents, realizing there was a cultural gap, signed up for the Best in Children's Books series and I received five or six books -- after which I think the subscription ended.

The tales my dad told me were about women warriors who wrote poetry and vanquished ghosts... and Fu Mu Lan ( and NOT the Disney Mulan, please!) a teenager, an expert in martial arts, sword-fighting and archery; who passes muster as a man in the army. To do this she UNBINDS HER FEET! And after the battles, she goes back to being a woman. And she gets married, apparently still a virgin after twelve years in the army.

The unbinds-her-feet part of the story is where mom would interject that her mother was sent off to America as a picture bride because she refused to have her feet bound.

This was cue to make my not-that-story-again face and go bury my face in a book--from age 8 to 10 on it was horse books: Black Beauty, King of the Wind; the Black Stallion series.

I  read Steinbeck's The Red Pony in the fourth grade -- which started my lifelong admiration of librarians.

The librarian knew the story was a little rugged for a nine-year-old and gently suggested that I wait to read it. I wouldn't be put off-- it was a book about HORSES, for heaven's sake. She asked we could read it together after school. I lived just behind the school and my parents agreed that it was OK for me to read quietly in the library for an hour after school.

I galloped through the first chapter. The pony dies at the end of the first chapter! Wait, this wasn't right, the pony couldn't die! The librarian was there to discuss this disturbing thing with me. I don't remember what we discuss, I do remember she asked if I wanted to read more, explaining that the book was made up of four short stories.

Were they all sad stories? Yes -- and no, she told me. I chose to keep reading, every day after school for two weeks, followed by a discussion with the librarian.

After that I wanted to read more Steinbeck -- and she guided me first to the Log of the Sea of Cortez and then recently-published  Travels with Charley, followed by The Pearl. By the time I finished sixth grade, I read all of Steinbeck that the librarian could find for me.

I've always wanted to be a librarian and somehow didn't end up as one, diverting into teaching and then moving out here. I took a stab at earning a MLIS, but what would I do with $50,000 of student loan debt on an island with no library?

Tiny Library, that's what!

No comments:

Post a Comment