When I was little, I loved summer reading. I would go down to the library and other kids would actually be there. I got to fill out a form and tell all about the books I had been reading.
Yeah, total nerd librarian. I even liked the forms.
All that fun centers around two memories, though. They both concern Mrs. Nelson, the children's librarian that ran her little department with all the enjoyment of a witch in a candy house.
The first memory comes from a program that I was too young for. It was an average, normal summer reading program. There was a game with hoops and books standing on end. You threw the hoop and if it got around a book you could take it home. There was also a Grand Prize Game, because children's librarians will liberally steal from even the likes of Bozo the Clown.
Mrs. Nelson banned me from both competitions. Even though I had to have been only about six or so, I was taller than even some of the middle school kids. I could reach out with the hoop or the ping pong ball and drop them on the target. Sure, everyone could do that with the first bucket in the Grand Prize Game, but I could crush that motherfucker. First prize was a Read poster featuring Levar Burton and I was a Reading Rainbow nutjob.
That hurt but even at six, I got it. Let the smaller kids have fun, the little snotbags.
Then we all had to sit down and they showed off some good books. Lots of books came out. The usual baby tripe. There's only so many times before the damn moon should just grow up and go to bed, right?
Then Ms. Butler, the library assistant, started talking about one book. It was meant for older kids, middle school and up. A kid like us was having a bad day, so he climbed up a cherry tree. He stood there in the tree and saw into his neighbor's window. Then the woman dropped dead. Was she killed? Should he report it? Would I read this book?
Hellhounds could not stop me from reading this book. A View from a Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts became my obsession. I checked the shelves for it. I asked my mom about it, but I could not remember the title. It was about murder so I did not want to seem too interested.
Now that I know how much Law & Order the woman can take down, maybe I should have just blurted it out. We would have had more to talk about.
Finally when we were in the library one day, I snapped. I could not get Encyclopedia Brown again. I did, but I wanted more.
"Mom, I want a book about a boy who sees a murder from a tree," I said.
My mother was taken aback, saying, "Okay. Any old tree?"
I could not remember the title but Mrs. Butler had talked about it at Summer Reading. Mrs. Butler was out having a baby, though, so we went to Ms. Nelson.
Ms. Nelson said that she knew the book and I could not have it. It was too adult.
My mother, to my great pleasure, said, "Excuse me? If he's old enough to ask for the book, he's old enough to read it. What's so wrong with it?"
"It has language." Ms. Nelson's face had gone from its usual vampire white to a tingy pink.
"ST, are you okay with reading language? Cause unless it's Hindu he's able to read English just fine. Is the book in English?" My mother asked the two of us rapid fire.
I said I guessed so. Ms. Nelson said it was.
I walked out of the library that day knowing two things. One, do not mess with my mother. Two, I would never stop a kid from reading any book he or she could ask for.
Still haven't. And she still is.
I guess I will wait and share the second memory I have with Ms. Nelson later.