Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday: On Capitol Hill

"The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library."  --Albert Einstein

Last week, I took my daughter on a mini-roots tour.  We parked outside the house I grew up in, and I pointed out what was the same (the red rock wall down the side of the steep driveway, St. Johns wort spilling over the sides) and what had changed (trees planted willy nilly all over the front yard, the wooden windows replaced with vinyl).  My girl pointed out that I grew up in a blue house, Daddy grew up in a blue house, and we live now in a blue house.  Then we drove on to my elementary school, which I hadn't visited, except in dreams, since summer of '81.  Unfortunately, there were construction barriers up, and I couldn't get closer than the parking lot.  We found some old friends' houses and retraced part of the school bus route, then a bathroom was requested.  Where to find a free public bathroom in my old stomping grounds?  The library, of course.

Capitol Hill Library, Multnomah County Libraries

The Capitol Hill library is and was an oddly shaped building, a sort of a domed, octagonal shape with a tacked-on rectangular entry area.  Since I'd last been there a mere 25 years ago, the card catalogues had been removed and computers installed.  The drinking fountain, which held a special magic to me as a child, has also been relocated.  The picture books and tiny tables remain along the same wall, while the children's section has moved away from the back wall onto freestanding shelves.  The newspaper reading section is gone, as is the glass domed display table that hosted a constantly changing exhibit.  Still, when I snapped one photo of the interior and sent it to all three of my sisters asking, "Where am I?", they responded within minutes with the right answer.  This place was home away from home, as all libraries are to those who love to read.

I walked the mile and a half to that library (and then back again) many times.  I knew the ups and downs our our hilly neighborhood.  I nervously eyed the house with the "Danger: Guard Dog On Duty" sign, even though I don't recall ever seeing a dog there.  I cut through the fields of the local high school and up the cement steps of the sharp drop off from the street above.  I emerged on busy Capitol Highway and crossed at the light, nearly there.  Once there, I'd turn in my books and get a new stack, which I'd carry home resting against first one hip, then the other, as my arms grew tired in turn. I'm pretty sure that both bags and backpacks had been invented by then, but it never occurred to me to use one for this trek.
Me admiring my display of books at the library's hobby show.  What kind of reading fiend displays books at the library's hobby show?  Like they didn't have any books there already?

Teenagers left sheets of cardboard on the grassy slope above the school's baseball fields, and I'd stop and take a few slides down the hill.  Sometimes one of my friends would walk with me, and we'd check out coffee table books to use as slides--trying to find ones that seemed like a couple of eleven year olds would want.  That giant Gnome book, or something with pictures of animals.  I picked roadside weeds for my mom on the way home--Queen Anne's lace and bachelor buttons.  The way home always felt shorter, as the way home often does.

Whether or not my friend could come with me, I still had company.  When I started walking on my own, around age 8, my parents had me take the dog along for protection.  Given that Maggie was a Scottish Terrier, her protection was more along the lines of bark than bite, but their reasoning was that she made me less of an easy mark.  Or maybe they just figured that the dog needed a walk.  The first time I brought her along, I tied her up to the bike rack out front and headed in.  Within minutes she was bored, lonely, and howling for my return.  I went out a few times to reassure her, but she was inconsolable.  One of the librarians finally said, "You may as well bring her in and we'll see how she does."  From then on, I did most of my book hunting with Maggie's leash looped around my wrist.  One the rare occasions I got a ride to the library, the librarians would all chastise me--"Where's Maggie?  What, you left her at home?  Poor dog!"  

That library helped build my identity as a reader, and was the first in a long line of libraries I've made myself at home in.  I've worked in three college libraries and one city library, and I've had library cards in 4 Oregon counties (three where I've lived, plus one at the beach) and one in Riga, Latvia.  The county I currently live in has a dozen or more libraries, and I adore most of them.  Did you know you can get cake pans at the public library?  Or request DVDs of Game of Thrones and get them in under a week?  Take your kids to free movies or Lego building sessions?  Get 15 donut holes for $1.50, unless it's under an hour to closing, in which case you're just as likely to find 30 donut holes in your buck fifty bag?

We made this with a bunny form we checked out at our local library!  Who knew?!?
There are those who say they can't afford the fines.  To them I say, "Online renewal with reminder noticed emailed to you!"  (And then I add that even with my frequent lapses in that area, the amount I pay in fines is less than 1% of what I'd pay buying all those books, and it goes to a cause I believe in.)  There are those who say that now they have Kindles, they can buy all the books they want without worrying about clutter.  To them I say "Or you can keep all your hard copies stored AT THE LIBRARY and get them whenever you want!"  Nothing compares to browsing the shelves, carrying that stack of books tucked neatly under your chin over to checkout, and then spending the afternoon reading first chapters, until the one that is just right for you in that very moment lures you into reading the whole thing instead.

"I'm the kind of girl who fantasizes about being trapped in a library overnight."  Rainbow Rowell in Fangirl.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Greetings and Salutations! (With apologies to Charlotte and E.B. White)

The first chapter book I read was Little House in the Big Woods.  My big sister was reading it to me, but she got home from school a couple hours later than my kindergarten class let out, and I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next.  With no TV in my home (and no other screens available way back then), reading was my escape and entertainment.  I still read to be entertained, although I don't mind thinking a bit too, as long as the story is good.  My favorite genres include mystery (adult), fantasy (YA), and anything with rich characterization and a compelling plot.

My superpower is that I am an unusually fast reader, and as with all superpowers, this is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing part is obvious--MORE BOOKS!!--and the curse is that since I only spend a few hours with most books, I don't have the greatest memory for them.  As a kid, I re-read constantly, so I am very familiar with the books I loved then, but as an adult, I often find myself saying, "Oooh, I loved that book!  Can't really remember what it was about, but I know it was good!"  Joining Goodreads in 2008 helped with that problem, and I've obsessively tracked all my reading since then.  

I've been a teacher since 1992, and until 3 years ago I worked with English Language Learners.  My students were often verbally proficient in English, but struggled with literacy.  I shared a lot of great books with students over the years, both sophisticated picture books such as Grandfather's Journey and How We Crossed the West: The Adventure of Lewis and Clark, and novels we read together, such as Holes and Nightjohn.  We talked about our reading, we made connections, and we analyzed.  I did a great job at making age-appropriate texts accessible and enjoyable  to students who had language barriers, but I didn't learn much about how to actually take a 13 year old reading at a 2nd grade level and help them improve.  

In 2012 I was moved into teaching language arts.  I teach 7th and 8th graders, and many of my students do not self-identify as readers.  Okay, most of them say they hate reading.  Once I got over my bewilderment (You hate reading?  Are you against breathing too?), I buckled down and read Atwell and Miller and Beers and Tovani and Wilhelm and even went back to Trelease.  I talked with colleagues within the department who were doing great things with kids.  I leapt into the 40 Book Challenge with my department last year, loved some aspects of it, fell on my face a lot, and am eager to revise and renew my approach this summer.   

The most recent book I finished was Jinx, by the improbably and delightfully named Sage Blackwood.  Just like Laura and Mary so long ago, Jinx, Elfwyn, and Reven caught and held my imagination, taking me to a place I've never been.  I hope to find other readers to share the journeys with.