Where this is concerned, my memory has sharp edges. Razor sharp. And this month it was confirmed.
The setting was the library of Madison Park Elementary in Phoenix.
The year was 1959. I was beginning second grade, the magic year where we got to go to the library once a week. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Brewer, and I loved her. I think she loved me, too, because one day she introduced me to a series of books that opened up my tiny world.
Second graders were generally confined to the section of the library that I called, in my mind, the “skinny book” section. And I just wasn’t interested. I asked Mrs. Brewer if I could ask Mrs. O’Clair, the librarian, to allow me to wander the other shelves searching for books I didn’t yet know existed; I just knew I wanted “real” stories. She cupped my chin in her hand and considered for a moment, then promised, “Yes. We will go together during library today.” And so we did.
Mrs. O’Clair had me read to her, then she took me to a cubby corner of the library I had never seen. Lining the walls of this corner were scores of blue books and orange books. The titles of these books followed the same pattern: Ethan Allen: Green Mountain Boy; Sacajawea: Bird Girl; Pocahontas: Brave Girl; Peter Stuyvesant: Boy With Wooden Shoes. This series had a name – “Childhood of Famous Americans” - and I was hooked.
I read every book on those shelves that year. Someone told me a few years later that there were about 75 of that series available in our library, but I wasn’t counting. I was devouring them.
Many were so interesting that I carried them into my grandmother’s room and read them aloud to her. She sat listening, probably knowing everything in them, but her smile told me to continue. Now I know she loved me, and my enthusiasm for what I was learning.
A few weeks ago Katie, our soon-to-be-seven granddaughter, told me she only likes “real” stories. Did I have any she could read? You already know what I did. I contacted a couple of friends who are not only readers, but tenacious scourers for books. I now have at least eight of “The Childhood of Famous Americans” on the way, all published before 1960, because I’m nostalgic.
If Katie likes them, I may order some of the newer ones. Astronauts could be important, I suppose. But they can’t hold a candle to the book that came yesterday.
Young Jed Smith: Westering Boy. I read it this morning. And suddenly I was 7 again, sitting on Momo’s couch.
I sure hope Katie decides to read it to me. I’ve cleared a space on mine.