I just learned that one of my Facebook friend’s late mother-in-law is the sister of Betty MacDonald.
Long-deceased herself, MacDonald just happens to be the author of one of my all-time favorite children’s books series, “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.”
I practically inhaled these books as a fourth-grader. I would hold my breath when I stepped into the library, hoping to find a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle that I hadn’t read yet. The premise of the book is about a grandmotherly woman who finds cures for misbehaving children in her neighborhood.
Why this concept appealed to me so much, I have no idea, but Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books have always been a dear friend to me and so have libraries. As a kid, my slightly older sister and I went through many different stages in literature. There was our inevitable “Nancy Drew” stage, and our Victoria Holt phase. This woman wrote Gothic-style mysteries that swept us away.
Then there was our M.M. Kaye stage. Her most famous novel, “The Far Pavillions” made me yearn to go to India, preferably as a beautiful princess. Not to mention the preteen Judy Blume phase (“Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret”).
We also discovered science fiction treasures like “A Wrinkle in Time” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic “The Lord of the Rings” series. When I was about 12, I forced myself to read “War and Peace,” partially to impress my father and partially because I was curious to see if I could finish it. I did … just barely.
Around this time I also discovered “Gone With the Wind” and was completely hooked.
My family would make frequent Saturday afternoon trips to the library, coming home with stacks of books full of promise. Sometimes I knew exactly what I was looking for, while other times I chose a novel based on the cover and the jacket write-up.
To this day, I still get thrilled when I find the exact book I’ve been dying to read or pick one up randomly and realize it’s a jewel.
My parents are both voracious readers, particularly my dad, who used to astonish me with his ability to retain so much of what he read. Libraries both excite and soothe me, which seems contradictory. There are days when I find myself driving to the library because I’m feeling a little blue and almost always, I leave with a smile, or at least not a frown.
There are times I’ve brought home “duds” — books that looked promising but upon further examination, I just don’t feel like reading. That’s OK. I no longer force myself to read something that doesn’t intrigue me.
Other times I go to browse and come home with books I had no idea I wanted to read.
Over the past decade or so, there have been many articles and blogs about libraries possibly becoming obsolete and this worries me.
Libraries are one of our great national (free) treasures and, in my opinion, must be preserved at all costs.
When I go to the on-post library — Casey Memorial — the clientele is generally soldiers, though I notice most of them are there to use the computers. More often than not, the remaining patrons are other soldiers waiting to out-process, and the occasional mom with small children in tow.
A lot of people say they are too busy to read these days, or if they do, they purchase their books online. I had hoped my two boys would love reading as much as I do. My 13-year-old used to read but seems to have lost interest since he’s gotten his iPad.
This makes me sad in a way I can’t really explain to him, though I try. Andrew, however, remains pretty enthused still. He recently discovered “A to Z Mysteries” and the silly “Captain Underpants” series, which amuses him to no end. We have read numerous “Magic Treehouse” books together.
He has read every “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book three times at least and owns no less than 35 Berenstain Bear books. (He’s grown out of them but still likes to peruse one from time to time). Currently I am reading him an Andrew Clements book about a boy whose father is a janitor.
Despite the joy these books have given him, it is still difficult for reading to compete with the ever-present lure of technology. For me, books have been a refuge, a cure for boredom and bad moods, a learning tool, a form of entertainment, and a way to travel without ever leaving the couch. I want my kids to feel this way about books as well. So I will continue nagging my older son to crack a real book and will persist in reading to Andrew as long as he lets me. And we’ll make plenty of visits to the library. On that note, please excuse me — I have to get back to my book!