HAPPY INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE BOOK DAY!
Who knew? April 23rd is “International Day of the Book” day. It’s also “Impossible Astronaut Day,” “National Cherry Cheesecake Day,” “Slay a Dragon Day,” and “Talk Like Shakespeare Day” (among many others).
In the spirit of the day, I’d like to share a brief tidbit of the day I fell in love with books, or the day I like to romanticize as the day I fell in love with books. Picture it.
Oh whoops, sorry, Sophia Petrillo just made a rude intrusion (long-live Golden Girls).
Springtime. St. John’s Catholic School. Second Grade. Miss Ambrosius just pulled out a well-worn paperback copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She looks up, makes sure everyone is (mostly) paying attention, and begins.
“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.”
I still remember the way her hands held the book. She had short, unpainted fingernails, and could turn the pages without making a sound. She was a petite thing, and could purch without flinching on an old metal stool, her feet never touching the ground.
Dramatic, I know — but this was the best part of my day, each day, and I couldn’t wait to fall into Narnia every afternoon for at least 5 weeks. The title itself is bewitching, no? How can you not love a book that has a lion, a witch, and a magical wardrobe? Listening to her read about a fawn and a little girl frolicking somewhere in a magical world had me hooked, instantly. Hooked on fiction, hooked on magical trees, talking animals, and of course, hooked on boys who turned into princes. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned that Aslan was C.S. Lewis’s representation of God, and what a fantastic portrayal, too.
Sidenote: This was also the teacher who, upon learning I had never broken a wishbone with anyone, brought one back after Thanksgiving and let me win. I would like to think that I wished for her to re-read C.S. Lewis over and over again.
I’m so glad that many of my other teachers also had a passion for reading and the arts and passed it on to the rest of us. Some subtly, and some with a bit more gusto. I loved them all. Miss Havesky, in the 6th grade, had us reading Greek tragedies and studying mythology. Looking back now as an educator, she differentiated this instruction so beautifully for us. We could read, write, paint, draw, act, or tell in order to express our understanding of this subject matter. I was an over-achiever back then, too, and probably did it all. It was then that I decided it would be prudent to be Artemis when I grew up. You know, fly around on a chariot pulled by white horses with a trusty stag by my side. Wear a crown of moons and shoot stupid boys with a boy and arrow, which was totally legal. Seemed like a good thing to aspire to at the time.
Then in 7th and 8th grade, Mrs. Cluppert led us into the world of actual drama, and helped us produce two plays of Shakespeare. I was so lucky to play Queen Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This inspired my affection for year-round twinkle lights and the painting presently hanging in my room.
“Out of this wood, desire not to go…” Yes, I still remember some of my lines.
Then in high school, Mr. Stewart, my English and History teacher shared what I think was history? but the way he told it, flying around the room, motioning wildly with his hands, one thought it was for sure fiction, but believable fiction, if that makes sense. I remember initially sitting in the back of the classroom, as I’ve been known to do, but then inching up row by row as the year went on. His lectures were best experienced in the front row. He made the Revolutionary War somehow really interesting to a 9th grader. I remember a particular tale of a man and a bear fight that was especially riveting, but he always told this one with a wry smile so it’s anybody’s guess if he was pulling our leg. This got me hooked on our own American history, and the idea that there were a zillion untold stories from our past.
As I reflect fondly on some of my beloved childhood teachers, and the things they shared with me that have really held on, I realize that much of what I’m writing about today with my own experimental fiction contains: a magical land of woods and streams and ridges and lakes, a moon queen, time travel to 1776, enchanted animals, ambitious teachers, and kids who are on the dangerous yet ever-enticing path of self-discovery.
Funny how the stars align, and the subconscious protects the jewels of our most treasured past so that we can make use of them when we’re supposed to. This is also a plausible explanation of why I’m so dreadful with math, because I was perpetually lost in the Land of Anywhere but Here with these teachers 🙂
So, thank you to my teachers on this The International Day of the Book. You are appreciated.
“For you, in my respect, are all the world.
Then how can it be said I am alone
When all the world is here to look on me?”
-Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream