“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: