Monday, February 02, 2009

a book ramble: chapter 2

The story started here: book ramble: chapter 1

So into Barnes & Noble I came, first as a Starbucks barista (I didn't know that term until years after I finished working there) and then into the children's department. That's where I met Natasha, the head bookseller for the children's department who was a veteran bookseller and whose knowledge and experience far exceeded mine. As she was training me in the precise location of book titles and genres, she would hand me the book and send me off to shelve it. As I would be nervously scanning the shelves to find this book a home, she would come up behind me and say in an offhand way, "I can see where it goes." I then would search harder until I too could easily find the spot.
The rest of the booksellers, with only a few exceptions treated the children's department as the ghetto neighborhood. (i.e. On the way to the breakroom and coatroom, walk quickly through it, eyes down and store badge hidden and hope that no customer snags you.) Pages and phone calls were constantly put through for the children's department to handle. I really began to know and understand children's books in a way I had never known.
When I worked there, the Newbery and Caldecott award winning books were grouped in their own special subsection. Natasha recommended many of those titles and kept it well stocked. I thought many of them looked and sounded boring.
Then there was the Returns list. Books that were selected to be returned to the publisher as unsold. Once as I was working on such a list, Natasha happened upon my growing pile and after scanning the titles, she yanked a few of them off the bookcart and said, "I don't return these titles no matter what the list says." Some of titles I remember I have since seen homeschooling moms recommend as their favorites. Books like Swallows and Amazons and other Arthur Ransome titles. I didn't know that those were the books that Natasha liked to recommend for an interested reader.
Later as a schoolteacher, I built up my own library for the kids to read and borrow from, but I still didn't work much from the Classics list or even the Newbery list. Nor did the schools' curriculum incorporate them. It wouldn't be until I started researching homeschooling options that I realized the importance using good, classic literature to help train minds.
Right now, my going on six year-old son and I are reading the original Winnie-the-Pooh books and we are loving them. We laugh over the silliness and the original songs that Pooh sings and we enjoy the humor each character brings to the story. I had no idea that the original stories had so much potential for young children. Last summer we all enjoyed listening to this audiobook version as we traveled twelve hours back to New Brunswick for a family wedding. The narrator, Jim Broadbent does an excellent job voicing all the characters.
Currently, sitting on my shelves downstairs waiting to be discovered are titles like Bambi, Treasure Island, and Swiss Family Robinson. I also look forward to sharing my favorites like From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Railway Children, Snow Treasure and The Little House Series.
This article, Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? written last October brought all these memories and thoughts to mind as I read it, especially with the latest awards having been announced earlier last week.

I also found this Newbery Ranking list interesting.


  1. Anonymous10:27 AM

    Good post! It's interesting to read about others' experiences with books. I read a few classics as a kid...but probably by accident. My christian school wasn't big on them...they loved to hand out sappy christian novels instead.

    I heard a story on NPR a couple of years ago about children's lit that was so eye-opening to me. They talked about the trend to over-mature kids by making the protagonists have adult-like cares and awareness. For example, there is a glut of books about divorce, but not written from the confused and hurting viewpoint of a child, rather the author makes the child into a miniature adult and has them process the dilemma as an adult would.

    I don't think I'm doing a good job of explaining it, but it sure made me look at literature in a different way.

    btw, if you haven't stopped by there yet, you'd probably enjoy kathie's blog. she was a children's librarian for a long time and always writes about child. lit.

  2. Thanks Tonia. Your NPR story is one of the reasons I am wary about the new-ish and trendy titles. I often feel like there is an agenda/philosophy for kids (or the reading adults) to conform to.


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