August 26, 2014

A Call to RSSAA Readers, Big & Small

by Karen L. Totten
RSSAA Librarian, Lower School

On summer mornings when I was 5 years old, I used to lay spread eagled across the cool brown and cream checked squares of the linoleum floor in the hall outside my bedroom door where a built-in book case occupied the space between my parents’ room and the one I shared with my little sister. 
Trying intently to read Nursery Tales from France and Holland (in translation), the English letters and symbols were as indecipherable to me as the proverbial Greek.  My young self longed so to understand this mystery, to decipher squiggles and lines into words.  It was a code I tried to break by staring at the pages, willing them to reveal themselves, thinking somehow that if I tried hard enough a pattern would miraculously emerge and I would be among the literate.
Of course, reading did not result from these marathons. What did help was when, several months later, Sister Marie Ursula, my first grade teacher, taught us sounds and symbols, pronunciation of the sounds, suffixes, prefixes, vowels and consonants. She read aloud to us and provided our first new books. Reading began naturally, and there I soon was, borrowing books from the classroom bookshelf...

In our small rural town in the early 1960’s, there was no public library, no physical magical place from which to obtain books, no bookstore smelling of paper and fresh ink, not even a Goodwill selling used copies of Peter Pan or Treasure Island.  My bookcase at home, filled with books my mother brought with her when she married, including a few received as gifts, and the school bookshelves, were all I had.  I soon read through everything in my grade level.
Salvation came in the form of the Bookmobile which traveled to town weekly and parked just down Church Street from Hubinger’s Grocery.  A bigger collection of books than I had seen before was delivered by converted bus from the public library in the city 20 miles away.  I wondered how the books stayed on the shelves when the bus turned corners.  As it happened, the shelves were slanted upward, and the librarian/driver actually secured straps across the stacks before she drove away.
From the bookmobile I could take a book home, sink into its context, its characters’ lives, while lounging across the green oversized chair in the living room sun, transported into other realities—meeting Marilla Cuthbert on Prince Edward Island for the first time and talking way too much, whirling through Kansas and not-Kansas-anymore to land in Oz and commence a quest to defeat the wicked witch, becoming Jo March and all the March sisters in turn while waiting for father to return from the war-- voyages of imagination that freed me from small town childhood and revealed a universe to roam.
Now, many years later, I have become a librarian who helps keep the books and it is my privilege, along with my colleagues Andrea Basso and Eileen Ho, to offer students the opportunity for these journeys to other places, other times, this festival of possible lives to explore.  For it is in stepping into another’s mind and heart that empathy is born; it is through experience that we grow in wisdom, understanding and compassion; it is in losing yourself in the story that you find yourself in the world. 
>>> Visit the Ellie Klopp Memorial Library in the Rudolf Steiner Lower School building, where time travel and transformation await!

1 comment:

  1. I love your memories of the bookmobile; thanks for sharing! It reminds me of when I used to climb into the world inside the big friendly vehicle, and later bring my own children to the corner to visit...almost as fun and exciting as chasing the ice cream truck, haha!

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