Twelve Books All in a Row

Before I first entered the door to Lincoln No. 7, my one-room schoolhouse on a lot a mile from our farm, I’d asked enough about the school to irritate and then annoy my older brothers and sisters. “It’s just like any other school,” my sister, who knew nothing about any other school, explained.

The huge blackboard with chalk and the biggest heating stove ever, as well as the desks screwed to the floor, and the green powder the teacher used when she swept the floor, all this was useful information for my 5-year-old brain, but I was most excited because there would be books. On four shelves recessed into the back wall there were books.

At home I had three books. One was a book with four stories in it. One was “Hans Christian and the Silver Skates.” I can’t remember the other three tales.

Another book was yellow, and the stories were about being kind to others. I recall a picture of a little boy holding his sister up high so she could drink from something called a water fountain. My dad told me about water fountains and explained why the boy was lifting his sister. 

The third book was a big book full of pictures and nursery rhymes. “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick; Jack jump over the candlestick.” I lived on a 160-acre Iowa farm. How would I know what a candlestick was—and why Jack was into jumping over one?

“Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was white as snow.” My dad told me that sheep are dumb as rocks and he wouldn’t have one on his property. Why didn’t Mary get a nice white dog?

“Four and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie.” That’s just stupid. I memorized all the baby rhymes, just to have something to do, but couldn’t imagine reading that book because it was fun.

Once inside the schoolhouse I checked out the back wall, and the books were there. One section on the lowest shelf was marked “First Grade.” I counted; there were 12 books. The teacher, Miss Holmes, noticed my interest in the books and, totally deflating my enthusiasm, explained that in the first grade I would only be allowed to read the first grade books. But she went on to explain that when I was in second grade I’d be able to read all the books designated for the first and second grades. By the time I was in eighth grade I would be permitted to read every book on the shelves.

Within the first two weeks at my school I’d read each of the 12 first grade books at least once. When I “accidentally” pulled a second grade book from the shelf, Miss Holmes immediately confiscated it and replaced it with a lecture about learning to follow the rules like everyone else.

Today we have the wonderful Key Center Library where the littlest children can own a library card. I watch a 5-year-old walking out of the library struggling to carry a canvas bag full of books, and I get teary-eyed. 

I read at least two library books each week, many ordered from libraries in locations throughout the Pierce County Library system. This sounds silly, but each time I see a book on the “waiting to be picked up” shelves with my name on a slip of paper stuck between the book pages, it’s as if the library has a special gift for me.

Using a little math brings startling results. If the average book costs $25, each week I save $50 because I use the library. The 52 weeks each year multiplied by $50 per week equals $2,600 per year in savings. In 10 years that’s $26,000 in savings, while reading 1,040 library books over those 10 years.

Where would I store those 1,040 books? How many new bookshelves would I need to purchase? Where would I put the bookshelves? Maybe I’d need to add a room to my house.

Maybe I need to write a generous thank-you check to the library. Maybe you need to write one too.

Phyllis Henry lives and writes from a hill overlooking Burley Lagoon.

Coast to Coast
Coast to Coast