Saturday, March 22, 2014

Someone is Watching

My younger sister gets an email from the school library every time her six year old checks out a book.  This would have infuriated me as a child because I liked reading books adults often thought were too old for me.   I remember three specific incidents:  in third grade I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring, and although my mother had read The Hobbit to my middle sister and me I suspected she might think this book was too scary or over my head[1] so I kept it tucked in my desk drawer with a red felt pen I used to write down an occasional vocabulary word.  On Teacher’s Night, Mrs. Freilich[2] exposed my secret to my parents!  I think my mother was amused and my father reclaimed his pen (which were apparently banned at school, although no one had told me) but I certainly never trusted her again.

The next year my parents were duly waiting their turn behind a husband and wife they knew very slightly.  These people were complaining that someone in the class had given their daughter an extremely unsuitable book.   Somehow my mother guessed it was me and waited apprehensively to see what it had been. Then Miss Barnes said audibly, “Maybe Suzanne wasn’t quite ready for The Secret Garden but it is a lovely book she will enjoy some day.”   See, I was just helping her improve her mind!   Miss Barnes and I did not always see eye to eye but she read aloud often and introduced me to some wonderful books:  On to Oregon, The Black Stallion, and The Phantom Tollbooth (this latter became such a favorite I chose it to giveaway in World Book Night last year.
Later, in seventh grade, at a new school where the library contained little new fiction but was full of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and religious-themed books like Miracle at Carville, I discovered Anya Seton and became entranced by her masterpiece, Katherine.   I must not have been very good at concealment because, thinking the book was very racy based on the cover, I hid it under my pillow where my mother, innocently changing the sheets, found it.  I came into my room to find her curled up with John of Gaunt, and she happily told me she had read that book the year she finished high school when it was serialized by the Ladies Home Journal.   The only remonstrations I ever got from her regarding my choice of books was her desire that I would not race through an author too quickly, denying myself the pleasure of anticipating a delightful read. 

[1] My mother would not have been totally wrong.  I had read Carolyn Haywood’s book, Primrose Day, the previous year, which features an English girl named Merry (and inspired my interest in evacuation stories).  As a result, I thought Tolkien’s hobbit Merry was a female hobbit.  There were plenty of male possessive pronouns but I airily dismissed those as typos and wondered about a possible romance between Merry and Pippin for some time.   I paused in my reading when Gandalf fell in the Mines of Moira and did not return to the Lord of the Rings until I turned 11 or 12.

[2] She already had a conflict of interest issue that had been unaddressed.  She had previously taught the other first grade section and one of her students, Laura Rabinowitz, who later attended Brown, was a flower girl at her wedding.  Fourteen months later, Mrs. Freilich began to teach third grade and Laura was in our class!  Favoritism resulted.

1 comment:

JaneGS said...

It's hard to imagine any parent not wanting their child to read The Secret Garden. I was pretty much given free rein of my parent's books, and my four older brothers were always giving stuff to me to read that was probably too old for me. I remembering forcing myself to read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and loathing it, but they read it so I figured I should too.

The only books I really hid were the YA romances that I knew my brothers would scoff at.

I loved Katherine when I read it last year--how I wish I had discovered it as a teen!