The Magic Library Card

Susanne Skinner’s post yesterday on the magic of reading reminded me of how my mother encouraged us all to read. By “us all” I don’t mean just my siblings and me as Mom pretty much raised two families.

Raising Two Families

Marie Boisselle, Hervey Boucher,

Marie Boisselle and Hervey Boucher on their wedding day

Marie Boisselle was the second oldest child and oldest daughter of a family of eight. Her father was a loom fixer, a skilled occupation in the textile mills of Fall River and one that supported a large family. But he lost his job and his earning power when the mills moved south.

Her mother was a midwife who supported the family by delivering babies. Even management edicts couldn’t stop families from having children, especially when birth control was illegal.

Don’t Forget the Library Card

While my grandmother worked, Mom raised her five younger brothers and sisters. She fed them, made sure they had clean clothes, packed their lunches, got them off to school, and helped them with their homework. The youngest girl in the family, my Aunt Janice, once told me that her sister Marie was more like her mother, while her own mother was so remote she was more like her grandmother.

And one of the things Mom did for her siblings was make sure they each had a library card and knew how to use it. Aunt Janice said that she remembered the birthday when Mom took her to the library to get her card: It was an important day for her.

Like a Candy Store

Mom did the same for her own family. She was a dedicated reader herself, of course, and always had a library book on her night table or somewhere in the house. She would pick it up in those rare moments when she wasn’t doing housework, cooking meals, taking us somewhere, helping us with our homework, driving one of the nuns to an appointment, baking for a church meeting, or doing yet more housework.

Marie Boucher, Morgan Kaplan

Mom and Morgan: notice the B&N bag

We didn’t buy books—there was no money for that or room to put them in—but why spend money on a book when the library would get it for you?  All four of us received our own library cards as soon as we turned five and going to the library was like going to the candy store. In the beginning we could walk five minutes to the old one Riverside Avenue in Somerset MA.

Mom would read to us every night from books that we took out over and over again: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Little Engine That Could, The Velveteen Rabbit, Billy and Blaze, The Little House, Make Way for Ducklings, Dr. Seuss, Blueberries for Sal, The Story of Ferdinand, and many, many others.

Graduating to Chapter Books

As we learned to read ourselves, we graduated to chapter books like The Black Stallion and its sequels, Lad a Dog and other books about the Sunnybank collies, Zane Gray westerns, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, Tom Swift science fiction, and—my personal favorite—The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet.

In those pre-Tolkien days there was no such thing as adult fantasy, but my sister and I liked fairy tales. We read The Red Fairy Tale Book, The Yellow Fairy Tale Book, etc. and then we badgered our librarian, Miss Flora, to go upstairs and root through dusty boxes in the spidery old attic until she found more exotic colors in the series. When the Town of Somerset closed the old building on Riverside Avenue and opened a new one on Read Street, we could no longer walk there with our magic cards in hand, but Mom drove us at least once a week. It was a brighter, sunnier building with more room and more books. Woo-hoo!

Andrew Lang, fairy tales, complete set, Henry Ford Justice

The complete set of Andrew Lang fairy tale books

So many books, so much more time than we would ever have again. Browsing through the new arrivals and the stacks was like exploring. Did I want to go back in time or forward into the future? Raise that horse I always wanted or run with wild horses?  Should I dive under the sea, climb to the top of Mount Everest or travel to another planet? The library’s books and my library card offered many ways to expand my horizons beyond Somerset’s town limits.

Filling the Milk Carton

Simone Kaplan Cote, Morgan Kaplan

Simone and Morgan with books

When I became a mother, I continued the reading tradition Mom had taught me. I would sit toddler Simone on one side and prop baby Morgan on a cushion on the other side and read to them both.

It’s never too early to start reading to your children. Our kids had library cards as soon as they were old enough. On Saturdays I drove to the Sudbury Library with a plastic milk carton full of the books we had finished. Then we would fill it up again with new ones.

Many new and wonderful children’s picture books had been written since I was a kid and we all enjoyed High-flying Henry, the mouthy Siamese cat, Where the Wild Things Are, Alexander and the Magical Mouse, Olaf and the Incredible Machine, and the amazing books of Chris Van Alsburg, from Abdul Gasazi to Zathura.  I did buy some of the best ones and packed them away when two kids outgrew them.

The Starter Library

Simone received this starter library when she had a family. Now we read to her daughters, who have also learned to love books. They each get three books a night at bedtime. Grandpa and Grandma will, of course, read to them at any time and we can be persuaded to add an extra book or two at bedtime. At five, Number One Granddaughter can already read Splat the Cat and other “early reader books” and loves to use the learn-to-read apps on my smartphone. She gets a penny for every word she gets right.

I feel sorry for folks who don’t read because they’re confined to the narrow limits of the real world and their everyday lives. They don’t know that they can go somewhere else, somewhen else, or be someone else just by opening a book. Whether you read the printed page or an e-screen, the world is full of books—and books are magic. Your library is waiting for you and your kids.

Get your own magic library card and dive right in.