Thursday, March 2, 2006

Reading is FundaMENTAL

It takes parents some time to get used to Mark, the children’s librarian, before they trust his recommendations, or even his approach, to their children. Spindly, thick-spectacled, like a Jerry Lewis character, with a highpitched ebullient voice (“Hiii, Nicky!”) and a librarian’s social awkwardness that comes across as over-excited in him, downright curt in Cindy, the head librarian. But he remembers the kids, and the books they like. He helps them as full-fledged patrons, and since they are bookish kids themselves, they say, “Can you help me find something, Mark?” And he says, “Suurre!

Nicky’s mom asks if he has enough books for the weekend. “Because I don’t want you sitting around doing nothing,” she says.

Mark says, with a gasp, as if he is nine himself, “Ooo, did I tell you about the Legends of Ballard?”

“That’s not the one with the animals, is it?” Mom says impatiently, as her smaller children wrestle for the stroller seat.

“It’s not the animal one,” Mark says, in a tone that suggests Mom might be his Language Arts teacher.

But Nicky jumps in:
“I know that one. The kids play dirty tricks.” Mom hums her disapproval.

“Ohhh..” says contrite Mark, quietly, “…we don’t want any dirty tricks.” His face puckers up around his nose. “Encyclopedia Brown. Did you like those?” Nicky has wandered into the shelves. When he returns with a selection, his mother says,

“He needs something more challenging. For his vocabulary.” The toddlers are both tipping back the stroller. “Stop it.” She says. “Nicky, go with Mark and pick out some things. Four books.” She shows him the number. She passes in front of the circulation desk, avoiding Cindy’s piercing stare. Cindy does not think children who can not read belong in a library.

At the “New and Recommended” shelf, Nicky’s Mom sizes up the collection. “When are you going to recommend something again?” she says in Cindy’s direction.

The stout librarian, who loves romance books series as much as her embroidered sweaters, joins Nicky’s mom in front of the thick potboilers. She knows all these authors, and which books are “her newest one,” and what order to read them in. She begins handing them over, declaring this one “so funny,” and this one “real good.” And “her, I just love. I’ve read them all.”

“What’s that one where she’s looking for a husband?”

“They’re always looking for a husband.”

In the end, Nicky chose Vols. 1, 2, and 3 of a kid’s version of Robinson Crusoe. His mother chose nothing.

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