Raising Readers: When a Book Finds You at Just the Right Time
Feb 21, 2017
I love it when a book falls into my lap at just the right time, and my life seems to converge with the characters in the story in an almost uncanny way. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, I pay attention.
One of the most notable times this has happened in our family was last fall when I was reading All-of-a-Kind Family to my kids (one of our favorite readalouds of the year!)
The very first chapter is about Sarah, the middle of five daughters. One Friday afternoon, the girls are getting ready to make their weekly trip to the library, an activity that is eagerly anticipated by all of them. Except this Friday, Sarah is found in a crying heap instead of getting ready with her sisters. When questioned, she chokes out the awful truth: She can't find her library book.
The whole family is enlisted to help search, but it doesn't turn up, which doesn't surprise Sarah because she actually loaned the book to her friend, Tillie, who said she returned it to Sarah's desk at school but Sarah never saw it. Although sympathetic to Sarah's plight, Mother tells her she won't be allowed to check out anything else from the library unless she pays for the book.
It's a hard lesson, particularly because, most likely, it was Tillie who lost it, not Sarah, but, as Mother says, "You borrowed the book, and that makes you responsible. The library lets you borrow the book, and you're not supposed to lend it to anybody else." Things get even harder when Sarah asks her mother is she'll come with her to the library, and Mother says, "No, Sarah, that's something you must do yourself. If you explain just how it happened, I'm sure the library lady will understand that you didn't mean to be careless. Find out what you have to do, and we'll talk about it when you get back."
It's a long walk to the library, and when it's finally Sarah's turn to talk to the librarian, she can barely get out the words. She's so embarrassed and ashamed. Luckily, the librarian is incredibly kind and understanding, and even though Sarah ends up having to pay for the book (it costs a dollar, which takes Sarah several months to pay off), she is allowed to check out another book, and it's the beginning of a sweet and lovely friendship with the librarian.
I know that was a rather long recounting, but it will be worth it, I promise.
Not two days after we read that chapter, Maxwell came home from school with a slip of paper. It was an overdue notice from the school library, which said that one of his books was ninety days past due, so he would need to pay for it. He seemed fine when he handed me the paper, but as soon as I started questioning him about it, he burst into tears.
I was completely unaware that he'd even lost a library book, much less that it had been gone for ninety days, but from the way he was crying, it was apparent that he'd known it was missing all those weeks but just didn't know what to do about it. All of the pressure and stress and worry unleashed itself in a great flood of inconsolable sobs.
Maxwell has always been very concerned with his image. At school, he is a model student. He does careful work, pays attention, and follows directions to the letter. But a model student does not lose his library book, and the thought of having to own up to it and fix it was almost too much for him to handle. He was not at all unlike Sarah, who was also absolutely mortified at the impression the pretty, new librarian would have of her if she admitted to losing a library book.
I'll admit that my heart almost burst seeing Maxwell's anguish. I was ready to swoop in and take care of it all for him when I remembered the words of Sarah's mother: "This is something you must do yourself." And so instead I said, "Max, do you remember what happened when Sarah lost her library book? She had to talk to the librarian and take care of it herself. I know you can take care of this, too."
We came up with a plan: We were sure he'd lost the book at school because it hadn't ever come home with him. The next day was Thursday. He would talk to his teacher first and explain the situation to her (during first recess because he was adamant that none of his friends know about his mistake). He would ask her if he could look through the bookshelves in the classroom and see if it had somehow been shelved there by mistake. ("Maybe she'll even help you look for it," we said. "She's been teaching for a long time. You aren't the first of her students to lose a library book.") If the book was nowhere to be found, he would go to the library on Friday and pay for it so that it would all be taken care of before the weekend.
The next morning, we said a prayer before he left for school. We prayed that he would be brave and that, if possible, he'd be able to find his book. Then, armed with the memory of how it had all worked out for Sarah, he walked into school. And I let him go.
His story has a happy ending, even happier than Sarah's. He followed our plan and talked to his teacher during first recess and, just as I'd suspected, she helped him look for the book, and they found it on one of the classroom shelves. He returned it to the school library and cleared his record. When he came out of school, his eyes were bright and happy and he was literally beaming.
I know Max's experience would have probably turned out very much the same whether we'd read that chapter or not. But it was so nice to feel like there was someone, albeit fictional, in our corner. It gave both of us a little boost of confidence to do the right thing.
Have you had any experiences like this, where your life bears an uncanny resemblance to that of a fictional character? How have stories helped you through tough learning moments?