I always liked to read when I was little. I had a great collection of Berenstain Bears books I’d go through over and over, and a pile of Encyclopedia Brown’s from my brother. Like any other little kid though, I probably enjoyed watching cartoons more—usually while jumping and climbing all over the couch like I was Spiderman. Ok, so maybe I still do that, but now I love to read, too.
I really love it. And more than that, I need it. I need to read. I have piles of books throughout my house, shelves loaded to bursting and piled to the ceiling on others; piles on the floor, piles on my stairs. Even old ones boxed up to donate that I will never actually give away.
I like to think of these books, more books than I could read even if I had months to spend on my couch, as my retirement savings. History, biography, true crime, sci-fi, fantasy, comics, good fiction, bad fiction, James Patterson sell-out fiction. Anything. I’m going to keep piling them up. One day I’m going to read them all. Every single one.
I have Mrs. Hopkins to thank for this hoarders-esque love for books.
Mrs. Hopkins was my third grade teacher and actually the daughter of my second grade teacher. It was a small school. One Friday she gave me a book she thought I’d like. The name of it was Top Secret, one of John Gardner’s lesser known kid’s books. It was a good hardcover copy; brand new, spine unbroken, dust jacket still fresh. Looking back, Mrs. Hopkins probably bought it herself.
You don’t think about books in your school or classroom libraries when you’re that age. There’s no thought of where they came from. It’s a library: those books are part of a library and that’s the most natural thing to a nine year old. Those books are all meant to be there, and nothing should ever stop that from being a reality.
Now, years later, I’ve seen what schools and individual teachers go through to get the money for those books. They struggle for each and every book’s spine that some little kid can pass their fingers over as they walk the length of a bookshelf for that one perfect story to lose themselves in.
I didn’t know if I’d even like this book. Didn’t have any intention of spending my Friday night reading, either, just saying that. I took it home with me, least I could do for Mrs. Hopkins. She was pretty cool.
But that perfect story for a little kid to lose themselves in? That was this one. Fridays were always TV and pizza night, and we got pop with dinner. That was a big deal. Not this time, not this Friday night. I spent the entire night laying on the couch, my feet buried under one of the cushions and I read that book from cover to cover. Couldn’t put it down. Haven’t put it down since.
I’ve seen teachers do a lot to put books in kids’ hands, from grants to cashing in cans, to paying for them straight out of their own pockets. There’s countless ways they do it, and maybe you can say there’s never as many books or enough money, but they do it.
Just like Mrs. Hopkins twenty years ago handed me a book that changed my life, a friend of mine is reaching out through a group called DonorsChoose to raise money for her own third grade classroom. She wants to build a book nook with little kid couches and as many books as her students can read.
Check out the link, hopefully you can give a little to make this happen. When you enter the code INSPIRE, DonorsChoose will match any gift you give. Gifts of $50 or more gets you a pile of thank you notes from those little kids whose lives you helped change.
Take a look, share it, talk about it, inspire a teacher you know to reach out through organizations like this.
So thank you John Gardner for writing Top Secret. Thank you Mrs. Hopkins for finding that book and handing it to me, for smiling and telling me, “I think you might like this.” I did. I’ve thought about that book and the impact it had on me every day. And thank you Mrs. Clabeaux, for being part of a new generation of teachers that are finding ways to reach out to thousands of people so that you might change the lives of as many kids as possible.
Or even just one that twenty years later might remember a book you handed to him one Friday afternoon.
from Mrs. Clabeaux at 11pm October 23rd: