My favorite book at age eight was “Alice in Wonderland.” I revisited it in the 1960s when Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane gave it a psychedelic twist and it revived with the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp film interpretation that was even more psychedelic. But nothing can be more phantasmagorical than just diving into the book itself.
My continuing passion in creating Little Free Libraries to be scattered all around the Litchfield Hills brought to mind a milestone encounter. On a sunny winter Saturday, I was spending the afternoon with my then seven-year-old grandson, who had a choice of watching a movie or showing off his hometown library. He was thrilled to give me the grand tour of that architectural and historic marvel (eventually to be even more amazing with a fabulous art installation by Danielle Mailer.) The rough-hewn stone building with its clock tower and arched windows reminded me of my own childhood library, and the magical moments spent there in the children’s reading room.
Jacob became a regular at the library as soon as he taught himself to read. We spent about 25 minutes wandering about the children’s section, mostly just the two of us, while he methodically went through the list of books. He’s always been fond of lists, and discussed with me each possible choice before finally picking his four favorites. I remembered the joy of finding a particularly fascinating book, then settling into one of the window seats at the back of the library. The perfect book couldn’t wait until I got home; it must be read immediately. He was amazed that his Oma had read some of the same books he was preparing to read now, with the exception of “Nancy Drew.”
Then our wonderful interlude came to an abrupt end. When he put his books down in front of the librarian on duty, she asked him, “Do you know where you are?” He answered, still smiling, “The library.” She then put her index finger to her lips and made the dreaded “Shhh” sound. We were both taken aback by that, believing we were speaking in normal tones in an empty room.
Since we didn’t have his library card with us, he gave his mother’s name to look up. The librarian checked her computer, then asked him sarcastically, “Are you Rhonda?” I’m sure she meant it as a joke, but my grandson was rather shy and her question made him uncomfortable. He left the books behind and walked away. She remarked, “I guess I scared him.” I didn’t respond because I don’t want to be overprotective; I want my grandchildren to stand up for themselves. I gave her my own library card without comment, but I was seething.
Once outside, he said, “That’s the meanest library lady ever!” I made light of it, telling him my childhood librarian was much meaner. Although truth be told, Mrs. Sargent was a lovely woman. She was so small in stature that we grade-schoolers felt she was one of us. And when she rode her Shetland pony down our road on Saturday afternoons, she always stopped in front of our house to let us pet him.
I didn’t want this episode to affect Jacob’s enjoyment of reading, or visiting his library. I told him everyone has a bad day sometimes, even him and his sisters. He understood that, and halfway to the sweet shop, he’d pulled out one of the books and began Chapter One.
I recently purchased a new edition of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with marvelous illustrations by Robert Ingpen. Decades can pass, mean librarians can shush us, eyesight can begin to fail, but one never tires of the classics.