From kindergarten on, the public library became one of my favorite places–due in part to its abundance of the classic children’s books I loved so much. My first library. Can anything match the adventure of hurrying through the glass doors towards stacks of literary delight? I can still see the location of my favorite books on those endless silver shelves. One whole wing of the building housed the children’s titles and I knew every shelf by heart. In first grade, I had moved to reading the third and fourth-grade titles and by second grade nothing intimidated me.
“Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors.” – Joseph Addison
On the first tall shelf beyond the picture books was Natalie Savage Carlson’s The Orphalines, which I loved because they were about girls my age, and the author shared my name. Then there were the Betsy-Tacy books, third shelf back on the far right side. Nearly every trip to the library merited a perusal of that section, just in case there was a title I had not read yet. Most often I felt like romping through the beloved stories yet again, from Betsy-Tacy to Betsy’s Wedding, the latter of which I could not get hands on for several long years!
Back in those days, the librarians set a limit on the number of books each child could check out–I believe it started at ten. In first grade when I was competing to be the student in my grade who read the most books we would visit every evening. On the five-minute drive home, I would dive into the first of my stack. I still remember my delight when the limit was raised to 20 books. Most of the time my selections were more than my little arms could carry.
“What a joy there is in a good book, writ by some great master of thought, who breaks into beauty as in summer the meadow into grass and dandelions and violets with geraniums and manifold sweetness.” – Theodore Parker
What is it about those first mind-shaping books we read as children? The illustrations and exact wording of some of my first books can still be brought to memory if triggered. Goodwill has yielded several long out-of-print titles I grew up with–the euphoria of such a find is best left to the imagination. Lois Lenski’s The Strawberry Girl and Flood Friday…Beatrix Potter, Marguerite Henry, Louisa May Alcott, David and Karen Mains…not to mention Rosemary Sutcliff, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Michael Phillips, and John White.
Recently, I sorted through every book in my library. I shall never, ever tire of picking up an old friend and wandering through familiar pages. The written word has the power to soothe, convict, encourage, and grieve.
“There is a great deal of difference between the eager man who wants to read a book, and the tired man who wants a book to read. A man reading a Le Queux mystery wants to get to the end of it. A man reading the Dickens novel wished that it might never end.” -George MacDonald