On Thursday, I did a run of errands, one of which was the library. I couldn't find anything in the adult section that thrilled me so I went to the children's section. I don't know why adults don't read more children's stories, they pack a wonderful bunch of adventures. I was looking in the section for reluctant boy readers because, let me tell you, those authors pull out tons of creative efforts to convince a boy to read. Pirates, air battles, submarines, Africa, dragons, swords, boogers, farts, chemical explosions and lots of dirt. I had in my hands a book with a great dragon on the cover when a group of 5-6 year olds from a kindergarten arrived. Teacher had some firm words about where they were allowed to roam and when she asked them “Do you understand?”, they all yelled “Yes!” and she let them lose. I was then surrounded by 8 or so children. They pulled books out of the shelves, checking for good looking covers. Size of book didn't matter, content of story didn't matter, even skill level didn't matter, the goal was to get a book with an amazing cover. I replaced my dragon book and at least two kids picked it up. I guess experience had taught them that eventually they would have to chose a book that they stood a chance of reading, but the first frenzy was about cool factor. One boy was determined to get a book about cougars but this was in a forbidden section. He needed a special escort. Luckily the other kids didn't notice or this was an established pattern.
I was enjoying the sounds of kids finding books exciting when one boy chose the dragon book I had been looking at. He exclaimed at the cover and then turned to his buddy and said with huge delight, “Wow, this book has pages!”
I'm still laughing. It never occurred to me that a book might not contain pages. It might not have pictures, or maps or chapter headings, but usually I can count on a book having pages. Upon reflection and telling the story to Steve, we wondered if the boy meant that the book was so sophisticated as to have lots of text on each page. Maybe he was impressed with where reading could lead to? Just wait until he can actually read that level of book, it was about a boy who was taking care of 8 dragon babies in the suburbs somewhere and an angry Chinese ninja warrior was out to destroy them. That's exciting.
At a recent book club meeting we were talking about books that had influenced us significantly, good or bad. It was interesting that most of us chose books that we had read before the age of 13. We are all avid readers but after reading for some 20-40 years, some of us are a little thick skinned about the excitement. We recognize a good tale or character or even a good setting and we enjoy it, talk about it a bit with the group, and go get another 10 books to read. Each of us felt the last decade of reading did not shine with as much shiny as the books we read when we were kids.
We came up with a list of about 30 authors from Beatrix Potter to Madeline L'engle. We nearly all had the same experience of having read through the children's section two or three times and sneaking up to the adult sections to see what else we could find. Some of us were sent back down to the children's sections (usually in the basement) while others of us were lucky and the librarian directed us to good adult reading; Jane Austin, Isaac Asiminov, and countless others. Some of us snuck books off our parent's shelves, hoping not to get caught but desperate to find something new to read. I had all three experiences in one form or another and it was while sneaking books off shelves at home or at the library and begging my mom to sign them out that I discovered history. I am sure I read most of the library's history holdings before I hit high school history class. Well, British history because they had castles.
Today, the children's section of the library is nothing like we had. There is a section for picture books, reluctant readers, middle readers, young adult readers, non-fiction, French, English as a second language, DVD's for all young ages, and magazines. Sometimes the writing style is a bit below a reader of 45 years reading experience but even so, the plots give a good kick.
There are always earnest books. Spare me from an earnest book, children's or adult. They go on and on as if the reader can't bring into the act of reading any previous life experience. There is nothing worse than a lecture in the guise of a story. I read one the other day about the Hudson Bay company and tossed it aside. Even if I knew nothing about 1700's Canada, that doesn't make me stupid as this author presumed his reader to be. No wonder some kids tune out.
Now, if you don't like fiction of any kind, the non-fiction section is brilliant. There are often DVD's in each subject section for the visual entertainment. And the subject matter is huge. You can get a book on sailing up the Amazon in the 1800's, a video on the galaxy, and a large coffee table book on cooking with chocolate. It is simply hard to imagine that a person can't find something to enchant them somewhere on all those shelves.
When the kids were little we went to a library in the Beach of Toronto. We had to head down a half flight of stairs, park the stroller, hang up all the coats and no child was allowed to be unattended. The sign out was back up those stairs and thankfully beside the “What's New” section. While waiting our turn I would lean over, grab ANYTHING that didn't look familiar and add it to the pile. We never went to the library without a stroller or the red wagon, there were just too many books to carry. Well, in that “What's new” section I discovered historical mysteries, Bill Bryson, gardening, the history of maps, the history of colour, fresh water fish, and most fun of all, Calvin and Hobbes comics.
I've been trying to talk my mom into going to the library for a few years now. Mom...go to the library! It's good exercise, a destination and free. I have a mission this next visit to Toronto to take her there and get her a card. So Mom, get your runners and a bill with your name and address on it, we are going to have a blast and find us a book with some pages.
For those of you with an ecological sensibility, March 27th is Dim Earth Day at 8:30 local time. Turn all your lights off or down for an hour. Use a candle. If this is simple to do, turn off your TV and radio and read, or play a game or play your musical instrument by candle light. If you really want to challenge yourself, back the time up to the dinner hour and see what you can do without electricity from 5:30 to 9:30. This is recommended by me, the adventurer in things green.
PS. the pictures are for the reluctant readers in the crowd. They are random.