Monday, March 29, 2010


“I think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to make sense.”

- Harold Kushner

Last week, when I worked at my old school, with the kindergarten class in the library, gingerly eyeing “freak out” boy*, a middle school teacher came running over to me. She told me that she was on a field trip earlier in the week. When they were looking at a tomb, a question was asked. One of my favorite students** answered, “The Bill of Rights. Thanks, Ms. Milstein!” “I thought you’d want to know,” she said. It was one of those moments that make me feel good that I’d affected him so and yearn for my own classroom at the same time.

The next day, I took the day off to go on a field trip with my daughter’s class. They were doing a unit on economics for Social Studies and had plans to set up a “store” in the classroom. Since they needed to know how a bookstore ran, what better place to find out than a local bookstore? Since the school is a half-mile from Porter Square Books, two groups would be walking over – one in the morning and another in the afternoon.

Porter Square Books is one of my favorite places (Sephora is a close second). Not only do they have a pretty impressive selection of books, but they snag wonderful authors – Kate DiCamillo, Tomie DePaola, and Mike Lupica to name a few. When Tomie DePaola autographed my kids’ books, it was difficult for me not to fawn. And they threw a great Harry Potter party when the last book was published***.

My daughter’s teacher thought of everything. Each child had a clipboard with a question that the student had written. Then the students were to do a scavenger hunt to answer more questions and then draw a picture of a section of the store. My job as a chaperone was to help the children safely cross the street, keep them quiet and orderly, and make sure they answered all of their questions. With two small groups, this was pretty easy.

Not only did we learn how the store ran, but we also got a tour of the tiny back room. Afterwards, the children had ample time to check out the store and the books. It was a perfect opportunity for me to observe a class of second-graders to see what books they gravitated toward, but it wasn’t always what I considered literature (Batman, Puppy Place series, Where’s Waldo).

It was sad that one girl was disappointed that the field trip would be to a bookstore and I was even sadder that quite a few kids had never been there. I know a lot of these children only read the books at school that they’re forced to by their teachers. But no child left the store without having fun and that gave me some hope.

Since I spent four hours in the bookstore – more than any other time – I also had many minutes to peruse the new books. Whenever I go to this store, I try to buy a lot of books. It’s easy to click my computer a few times and order books at a hefty discount from Amazon. But Cambridge has three independent bookstores and I want them to stay in business. This store, in particular, reaches out to the community with field trips for author visits and they’ve even begun a book group for middle-grade children. You can’t get the same experience on a computer.

This trip made me think about the purpose libraries and bookstores serves in a city like Cambridge. Many kids rarely leave the city. Once as an assistant, we took our class to the beach. It was one eleven-year-old’s first time seeing the ocean. For a couple of hours, this tough guy became the kid he was meant to be. Books are a quick way for children like him to experience worlds beyond our city’s borders. They serve many purposes. We learn about people who aren’t like us, only to find out that they’re not that different from us after all. And all reading makes us better readers, writers, and people.

That’s why I love to write. I want to reach out and touch others - especially those who are figuring out who they are. When I look at my list of favorite books in my Google Profile, it’s not necessarily the ones that are the most critically acclaimed, but it’s the emotional and cognitive place I was in when I read them. Books help us work through questions we have and understand more of ourselves.

Hello Aurora**** made me realize that there were alternatives to how children could be raised when I was a child. To Kill A Mockingbird opened my eyes to injustice and standing up for what’s right even when you stand alone. Accidental Tourist was read when I was in my late teens and in a destructive relationship. I had sworn not repeat a family pattern, but did just that. It was difficult trying to figure out what made a healthy relationship because the real-life ones around me were (to say the least) lacking, so I couldn’t find the answers there. Along with therapy, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the book changed my life.

Which books made an impression on you when you needed them?

Freak Out Boy post from the other day:

** A story about this student and my favorite post:

*** Harry Potter post:

**** Hello Aurora post:


  1. What a great idea for a field trip!

  2. My favourite thing to do is to spend time in a book shop and am delighted to say my kids do too.
    I cant think of any life-changing book but I do remember my first ever book that I actually owned.
    It was a Paddington Bear book and I still have a fondness for that little bear. I lived in London for years and Paddington Station was one of the first places I visited.

  3. Hampshire flyer, I thought it was cool too.

    Brigid, my kids love bookstores too - especially my daughter. Paddington Bear is cute, but I didn't read his books when I was young. I didn't know there was a real Paddington Station.

  4. One of my favorite things to do is to spend time in a bookstore. The books I always remember are the books by Joy Adamson. Born Free and Forever Free. I read those when I was young. I think because of those books to this day I have a fascination with Lions. I even have a lion painting on my wall in my living room.

  5. Tom Sawyer was one of my favorites as a girl. Also On the Banks of Plum Creek, which I believe is the first "big" book I ever read. I wanted to be Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. I was influenced a LOT by Ayn Rand in junior high, then Dickens and Victor Hugo brought me back to earth. Recently I read And Baby Makes Two by Judy Sheehan and it made me realize that's the genre I am leaning to in my writing-- chick lit/women's fiction.

    Sorry for the personal history lesson. No one should ever ask a question about books around me or I won't shut up.

  6. Hi Theresa Milstein..

    Am I missing your birthday??? Hmmm - I must read back on your posts...!



    The field trip sounded like such fun for the kids - and a fantastic way to support the independent bookshop and the community! Wonderful.

    Anyway!! The one book that made a humungous, ginormous, life changing, eureka moment that made me say, yes, yes, YES (a la Sally in When Harry Met Sally restaurant scene) was and is....

    The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

    Unfortunately I was stupid enough to give my first edition copy to this guy I though I loved.


    Take care

  7. Thanks for the beautiful post. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Call of the Wild, and Farenheit 451.

  8. That is sad that one girl was disappointed and some had never been there! My gosh! My parents couldn't afford books so we went to the library once a week.

    Thanks for the link to the flute book :) I thought that was funny!

  9. I think books by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (The Headless Cupid, Black and Blue Magic, The Changeling) changed me because they introduced me to fantasy. I didn't start writing fantasy until later in life, but I think it was that foundation that made me love it in the first place.

  10. Choices, I think it's great that you kept a fascination with lions from those books.

    Karen G, I love that you shared all of those books. I asked the question to see which ones I may have missed. Can't bore a history teacher with a history lesson!

    More recently, Harry Potter made me realize what types of books I wanted to write and the age of the audience.

    Old Kitty, the big birthday was Friday. You wished me so many happy birthdays, that it's fine if you didn't do it on the actual day.

    I loved The Outsiders too! S.E Hinton wasn't a late bloomer. She started young (14?) and stopped early. I'm sorry you gave away your first edition copy.

  11. Sarahjayne, of the three, I never read Farenheit 451. But when I subbed in one day last month, I had to show the movie. The movie was slow moving and class ended before I saw the whole thing.

    Aubrie, as a kid, most of my books were from the library too. Cambridge has wonderful libraries that do fantastic summer programs. I wish all kids took advantage of them.

    Susan, I once told you on your blog that H.P. did the same for me. For this post, I focused on the books from my younger years. Thanks for sharing.

  12. My favorite book was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I don't know that it influenced me but it was a favorite

  13. Great idea for a field trip!

    The first time I went to the beach was right before I turned 18! I was kinda sheltered as a kid. So, I can understand how some kids miss out on experiences and feel the need to get them through books.

    I loved Ethan Frome when I was in high school. It's so depressing, but for some reason, I just LOVED it. Still do :)

  14. A field trip to a bookstore how wonderful. Bookstores are my favorite place, only second to the seaside. It is hard to believe there are children who have never been to a bookstore.

  15. I love the quote at the beginning of your post - it's so true. Great idea for a field trip. I'd have been interested in what books caught their attention too. At my daughter's school, I'll bet there are lots of kids who have never been in a bookstore or library either - it makes me sad. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  16. What a terrific idea for a field trip. I would have LOVED it as a child and I bet you had just as much fun being the chaperone :) It's sad that reading is like pulling eyeteeth for some kids. I think there must be something missing in the heart of a person who "hates" books.

  17. Tiffany, thanks for sharing a book you love.

    I agree - the field trip was a great idea. I'm glad my kids have had a few teachers who do amazing things with the students.

    Ann, I love the sea too. New list: ocean, bookstore, Sephora. It is hard to believe that some children have never been to a bookstore.

    Andrea, thanks for visiting my blog. I don't know if your daughter's school is like the ones here, but we have the fairly rich mixed with the very poor.

    Julie, I love when I get to go on the field trips that interest me. I think some of the dislike of books is lack of exposure with difficulty reading. If schools can provide both, children often find a love of books. It just takes time.

  18. Hey Theresa --
    Just wanted to stop by to see if you'd heard about this April Challenge:

    I’d like to invite you and your readers to join us in a blogging challenge for the month of April. Check it out at Blogging From A to Z

    Hoping to find as many inventive bloggers as we can to make it interesting and you can be pretty inventive. Check it out and let me know if you'd like to be a part of this.

  19. Left an award for you over at Inkpots N' Quills. Pop over and pick it up you "Beautiful Blogger" you!

  20. I would love a field trip to a book store! How fun.

    So sweet that one of your favorite students acknowledged you. I'm sure that felt amazing. :)

    Just wanted to thank you for your kind words on my blog. I'm hopefully over the worst of the illness and should be back to posting soon.

  21. Shelley, I was amazed that the sixth-grade student said my name aloud on a field trip. As an assistant all of those years, it always felt like my impact was minimal - they weren't mine.

    Hope you're all better soon.

  22. Thanks for such a great post! "To Kill A Mockingbird" was also one of my favorites along with "Deenie".

  23. Kathleen, Deenie was a great book, which made me think about how parents pigeonhole their children, but it doesn't make them who they are.

  24. Wow, what an awesome bookstore! The field trip sounds like it probably gave lots of kids a taste of just how delicious it feels to be surrounded by books books books.

    I think it's very cool that you get to impact so many lives.

  25. MBW aka Olleymae, I think it was good for all of the students to see how much fun a bookstore can be.

    Thank you for saying I have an impact. I hope I do.