As we squeezed our way through the crowded aisles, I stole some quick peeks at the titles on the table beside me. I smiled. There, in the middle of my sons’ elementary school book fair was a small pile of Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone. Next to it, Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller.
It was a brief moment, but one that made me happy. I think both of them would love to see how many parents and students turned out for our school’s book fair. The minute I picked the boys up from school yesterday, my six-year-old couldn’t stop talking about all the books they’d seen at the book fair, and at home, he pulled out a crumpled half-sheet of yellow paper with his wish list. He brought that, plus six dollars he’d taken from his wallet, to the fair tonight.
I loved book fairs when I was little. Actually, what I really loved were the Scholastic book order forms we’d bring home. There was something magical about those flyers, from the feel and smell of them, to the perfectly brief and non-descript descriptions of each book. I could stare at the book covers for hours. They were also a special treat, too. Although my mom was generally a spendthrift with most things in our lives, she always let us order a book or two from those beloved Scholastic flyers.
What I realized I don’t love very much are the book fairs themselves. I look forward to it each year, but tonight reminded me of how much I dislike the crowds. Armed with their wish lists, the boys ducked and squeezed, nudged and inched their way toward the book displays with the titles they wanted. Thankfully, my six-year-old managed to grab the last copy of the Magic Treehouse book that he wanted, while his older brother (no surprise) a superhero graphic novel he had been eyeing. We picked up books for their teachers, too, which ended up detouring our plans for a quick getaway. For my son’s fourth-grade classroom, I picked up a copy of Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts and for my other’s first grade classroom, we purchased the picture book, Poems for Peter, which tells the story of Ezra Jack Keats and the creation of A Snowy Day. I know that these will both find a good home in their teachers’ classroom libraries.
I think what I dislike about the crowds at the book fair—however positive a sign it is for the school’s fundraising—is that you don’t get to walk leisurely through the aisles and actually browse for books. Instead, it’s move, move, move, and excuse me, may I get through? I love book browsing, whether it’s at Barnes and Noble, the local library, or the church rummage sale. There’s something wonderful about picking up a book you’ve never seen before, feeling its weight in your hand, gently outlining the picture on the front cover with your fingertips. I also love paging through the opening, reading the first few lines, wondering where this book would take me. None of that quiet exploration is really possible, of course, with dozens of parents and their kids around you, stopped in the middle of this aisle or that to catch up and chat. The middle-of-the-aisle conversations infuriate my husband, who can’t understand why people don’t see that they’re holding up traffic.
But here, a few hours later, in the comfort of our home, I glance over at my nine-year-old who is reading away. Every few minutes or so as I write this, he stops to show me something funny that he’s reading. And then I look to his side and see the other book he bought at the book fair (and with his own allowance), What were the Twin Towers? When he picked it up at the book fair, I was a little surprised at first—and also a bit worried. Would it be too dark for him? I don’t know.
More than fifteen years ago, one of my best friends actually died in one of those towers on 9/11, Every year, we go to a memorial dinner in her honor, and while we’ve always taken the boys with us, I think last year was the first time the boys really started to understand what happened. I like to think that when my son picked out that book—of all the ones that stood waiting on the shelf—that it was his way to try to understand, to make sense out of something that even many adults find senseless. And though he might not have known it, I like to believe that it was also a way for him to honor my friend—the auntie he would never meet but I know would have loved him and his brothers fiercely.
This post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.