Many grownups expressed surprise at the Harry Potter phenomenon, but not me: A good book is a good book—and good children’s books speak to life’s verities—how we make our place in the world, how we face the problems of life and death and love, as do good adult books—why would I limit myself?
I believe in libraries, in reading, and in children’s books. I use the library’s marvelous services differently than I did as a kid on our weekly library trips, but with the same intense joy.
My parents taught me to read, and paid the price for instilling that deep and abiding love of reading: a child who wouldn’t put the book down to get dressed, who read stealthily at school, who’d excuse herself at dinner for the bathroom (where I’d stashed my book), using the single fail-safe excuse for leaving the table, who read by the nightlight after bedtime, as my mother had blanketed her door after bedtime herself. We fed our insatiable literary addiction at the library. I followed their sterling example with my children. My folks read books I loved; I read books my kids loved.
I worked at libraries through college, among the books I’d grown up with, sharing them with others, reading aloud at story-hour. I kept my love for books I’d loved from the first, found copies of books I cherished, and re-read them regularly, for sheer pleasure.
At our library, books from by-gone decades shared the shelves with newer titles under the magic of the Dewey Decimal system. I read what caught my eye, and reread my favorites, new and old, American and English, LM Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Rumer Godden, Francis Hodgkins Burnett, EL Konigsburg, and Jean Webster. I found the Nancy Drew books, and the Bobbsy Twins, the Black Stallion, and the Five Little Peppers, and I read them as they and I grew, then outgrew them. I read the Heinlein juveniles, books on horses and dogs and the outdoors, fantasy and science fiction, drama and comedy, history, science, fiction and fact.
As I’d outgrown less inspired books, when my kids brought home “Goosebumps” and “Babysitters Club,” I defined what became our touchstone: “If you try, you can tell the difference between a book by someone who wrote for money or to lecture you, and books by someone who wrote because they had a story they loved telling.” Soon they found Madeleine L’Engle and Louis Sacher and Susan Cooper, and their favorites and mine intermingled. The books they love and cherish nestle among books I love and cherish—AA Milne and EB White and James Thurber books my parents read to me next to my favorites next to Harry Potters we squabbled to be the first to read.
Stories someone loved telling taught us more, and gave us more pleasure, than we can express; in our books, we find understanding and knowledge that survives and transcends time, new worlds at the turn of a page.
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