It’s a phrase I don’t say all that often, but, “I agree with New Yorkers.”
Why don’t I say it that often? Because every individual I know in New York feels differently about virtually every subject imaginable. But this time, New Yorkers agree, and I am with them one hundred percent.
I’m not talking about Mike Bloomberg, and I’m certainly not referencing the cannabis bill or the new cat-declawing ban. (Yeah, that’s really a thing- it’s now considered inhumane to remove your cat’s claws in New York, and once Cuomo signs it, curtains and couches all over Manhattan will be shredded in celebration.)
I’m talking about readers’ decision to select and presumably read Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day. In the history of the New York Public Library, this classic tale of a young African-American boy in winter has been checked-out more than 485,583 times. (Read the full New York Times Story here)
I’m not gonna lie. I literally shed a small tear when I saw the news of this story come across my feed. And then, I might have verbalized a small cheer. “Yes!” Here’s why: I love this book. I loved, and still very much love this book.
THE ALLURE OF THAT LITTLE BOY
What is the universal appeal of this book I wonder? People select books based on their cover, right? So is it the stop light? The city? The book cover’s bold strokes of that red suit, tucked among the footprints of white? Perhaps it’s the inquisitive face of this child –examining the path behind him, not ahead. Ahh, yes. His would be an epic journey, but where was he heading?
The picture book tells a simple, beautiful story of… wait. I’m not telling you. If you don’t know, you must pick it up. Stop reading this useless blog, get to a library and check it out. The simplicity of Keats’ book is what makes it a timeless treasure to behold.
For those of you who are not en route to your local library, I will continue.
I grew up in a very suburban, homogeneous, working-class neighborhood outside Detroit in the early 1970’s. I can tell you, The Snowy Day was regularly on my short list to check out from the Warren Public Library, where I was permitted to select up to four books per visit. When it was there. More often than not, it was missing from the shelves.
In my earliest days, I was able to visit my local library once each week, accompanied by my mother, where I was also permitted to check out hand-puppets, vinyl records (albums), and (you won’t believe this) framed reproductions of major works of art. The walls of our home, would (to my mother’s embarrassment) be adorned with the works of DaVinci, Rembrandt, and Renoir. When I discovered Kandinsky and Picasso, they were relegated to my bedroom– which was just fine with me. “Composition IV” and The Muppet Movie poster, side by side.
This snow-immersed little boy looked nothing like me. His home looked nothing like my home– but I wanted to be his friend. I wanted to be with him at the party. I wanted inside that world that was so unlike my own. And those emotions were unlocked thanks to this American institution known as the public library. There are more than 116,000 still active in America today.
There is something so special about children (or adults, even) having to choose a book, commit to keeping it safe (for a time), and returning it safely to its home. It’s almost like a secret society of sharing.
I loved that library. It was there that I discovered Keats’ story, among others. I would go on to learn there was another Keats, but that would be another time, at yet another library in Chicago.
BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS
Full disclosure: I’m a pretty great dad. I have the birthday cards, coffee mugs and notes to prove it. And my wife is “mom of the year” nearly every year. And even though we made our family reading time together a top priority, we maybe, sorta screwed this one up.
You see, when our boys were small, we would consume picture books like they were cheerios. Every day and each night, story time was precious. And we made time for it. We would each select a book (or three), hunker down among the bed pillows and stuffed animals, and read together. The Snowy Day was always among the first chosen–even in summer.
“One more! Pleeeease” was the recurring request. And it was nearly impossible to say no. The bed stand would occasionally tip over from the uneven weight of that day’s picks, awaiting to be re-shelved.
And here it is. My problem with libraries. I love to buy books. I have always bought books as gifts. Gifts for me, gifts for the family, gifts for friends. By the time our boys were in high school, we had amassed six huge shelves of picture books and young adult novels.
Anytime I was on the road traveling (which was often), I would always come home with picture books, and (eventually) novels for my children. I still do this.
When we needed some time away from the home, we would pack up the car and head to Barnes & Noble or Borders Books and Music (I’m still sad about losing this one). We would spend hours at the bookstore, and we always returned with 1-3 new books. But we never really made the library a real commitment.
I love our libraries, and we need our libraries, I just can’t seem to make time to visit regularly. I’m too busy, I suppose. And, I fear I would never return my selections.
I’ve never sold or thrown away a book. I suppose if Amazon couldn’t get something I wanted quickly enough, I would probably have to check out my local library. Maybe it is a commitment I will make with our (one day, perhaps) grandchildren– to introduce them to this unique community of sharing, called “Library”.
As my family can attest– I am building my own library at home. We now have a thousand (thousands, maybe?) of books, and I am okay with that. Nestled among the best-selling biographies and novels in the Wolff Family Library, you’ll surely find The Snowy Day. Unless it’s still on a bed stand, waiting to topple.
So, we kinda, sorta messed up the library thing.
But we did give them Blueberries for Sal. And Caps for Sale. And Ferdinand, Corduroy, Madeline, as well as Harold and that pesky purple crayon. And The Little House. And The Giving Tree.
And now I’m crying again.