Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I can’t wait to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins…

By Robin "Red Hot" Kaye

When I was in the third or fourth grade I went to the library to get a week’s worth of books. I had recently moved away from my dad in New York, AKA my supplier. When I used to visit my dad on the weekends, he’d take me to the bookstore, and let me buy as many books as I wanted. Books to my dad were like milk, something parents encouraged kids to have as much of as they could stand because it was good for them. It didn’t matter what I read. As long as I was reading, well, that was enough for him.

Imagine my surprise when I went to the desk to check out my stack of books and the librarian said no. Seriously, she refused to allow me to check out those books—all seven of them.

I was a very polite kid and never mouthy with adults. In my house, if the thought even crossed my mind, I’d be smacked upside the head. If I had been stupid enough to mouth off, I’d have had the pleasure of attending my own funeral or I would have found myself praying for it. Needless to say, I stood there in front of the librarian in a state of shock, wondering what I had done wrong, and frankly, too afraid to ask. But my biggest fear, the one that had all the blood draining from my face, was what would I do if the library never let me take out any books?

To me, reading was like breathing—it was necessary for life. Reading gave me a safe place to escape and after moving around a lot—about every nine months on average—I desperately needed that. The worst part was, I wasn’t going to my dad again for months. I didn’t know how I was going to survive.

I went home empty handed, called my dad in tears, and told him what had happened. My dad exploded over the phone. After his tirade ran down, he told me to go back to the library and give that librarian a piece of my mind.

Now, I had always listened to my dad, but I didn’t necessarily trust him to tell me everything I needed to know. You see, there was a time he told me if anyone hit me, I was to hit them back harder. He’d never said, except for nuns. I think I was the only kindergartener ever expelled from St. Paul’s Catholic School. Live and learn.

After explaining my trepidation, my dad assured me it would be all right, so off I went back to the library. When I asked the librarian why she hadn’t allowed me to take out the books, she told me that all the books I picked out were inappropriate for children my age. Which, looking back at it, was probably true. I was big into Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, Wilbur Smith, and the occasional John Le Caree. At the time though, I didn’t know what she meant. I’d been reading my dad’s books since first grade. She asked if she could call my parents. I offered to call my dad collect for her so she could speak with him.

When the poor woman got off the phone with my dad, I felt sorry for her. She asked if I would read a book for her. She went to a section of the library I had never been, and pulled out Mr. Popper’s Penguins. “Make sure you read this,” she told me, and then explained she’d ask me questions about it when I returned.

All of a sudden, reading felt like homework, but if that was what it took to get my other books, I’d do anything—even read what looked like a stupid kid’s book.

I went home and read every book I’d taken out. Finally, when I was out of fun reading, I cracked Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and for the first time, I fell in love with a book that was appropriate for my age. I went right back to the library and discussed the book with the librarian, and after that, every week she would have one appropriate book waiting for me at the desk. Still, Mr. Popper’s Penguins was my favorite, although The Mouse and the Motorcycle was a close second. The best thing about it was having someone to talk books with. My favorite librarian was the only person I missed when I moved away.

When I had kids, I couldn’t wait to read them Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and although they seemed to enjoy it, they didn’t love it like I did. Maybe it was because I never allowed them to read inappropriate books—not that it seemed to hurt me any—but my kids grew up on great kid’s books. Still, when they heard about Mr. Popper’s Penguins coming to the big screen, they were excited for me because that was, by far, my favorite book growing up.

What did you read growing up?


Gail Hart said...

My favorites were Phyllis A. Whitney's children's mysteries.

Elizabeth said...

I hated reading, until I found the Science Fiction section with C.S Lewis and Tolkien. They were too old for me, but I read them anyway. After that, I went straight through the Nacy Drew and Hardy Boys series. Then, forget it...I was hooked and read anything that popped into my hands.

catslady said...

When really young we didn't have very many books so they got reread and reread but then I was given the chance to visit a library and I was in heaven. I do not like to reread - maybe the occasional series to refresh myself - there are just so many new things to read. I too read above my age and no one stopped me. I made sure my two girls had tons of available books. My oldest is like me and reads all the time. My youngest is more hands on and in fact is now an artist. I enjoyed your story and applaud your dad but what a nice thing the librarian eventually did too!

Zita said...

I read everything I could get my hands one,but the most memorable was The Day of the Triffids. It launched me into the sci-fi/fantasy genre with a vengeance. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm laughing at the imagie of you getting expelled from elementary school for hitting a nun.

Great story, Robin!

Debra Key Newhouse said...

When I was very young, I loved the Bobbsey Twins. I then moved on to Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. And I loved the Gothic books out at that time.

When I was very little, there were Golden Books, but the one I remember was a book of jokes. I still use one of them that never fails to make my daughter laugh.

The Thunder God went for a ride
Upon his favorite filly.
"I'm Thor!" he cried
And the horse replied
"You forgot your thaddle thilly!"

Came in handy with the Thor movie recently :-)

You hit a nun? Can't wait to tell my neighbor, a former teacher at a Catholic school and now the Principal. She will love it! lol

The library was my best friend. When our new library opened when I was about 8 yo, they used a number system - first come first served so to speak. My library number was 7. Eager much? lol Now my Kindle and Amazon.com are my best friends. But I do miss the librarians who often frowned at my choices. We weren't even allowed into some sections until we turned 13. If you wandered over, I think you were banned for a week, a phone call was placed to your mother, and they probably hung your picture on the front door of the building. I may have made up that last part. I just know my mother would have KILLED me if I did anything to embarrass her in anyway.

Christie Craig said...

I fell in love with Charlotte's Web.


Brandy said...

I read everything I could get my hands on. I read my Mother's books, I read Jayne Ere, I read Judith Krantz. *g* Heck, I even read Gone with the Wind in third grade. Of course I also read books like Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and Sweet Valley High when I was in grade school, so that at least counter-balancec some of the other books. By the time I was in Jr. High I was reading Barbara Michaels, Phyllis Whitney, and went through the now banned books like J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and Fahrenheit 451.

Sandy said...

Black Beauty was one of my early favorites along with The Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew.

One I still have is Girl of the Limberlost, a very old book from my grandmother's library. She had tons of books, and I read every single one of them as a child.

Kima said...

First there was Dr. Seuss, then I read all of the Nancy Drews and started on the Hardy Boys, but didn't get very far because I thought the Hardy Boys were quite wimpy compared to Nancy and her pals. When we went to my grandma's house I found all of my mom's old Bobsey Twins books and devoured them over and over again. Then there were the forbidden Judy Blume and Rosemary Rodgers books, which my friends and I passed around secretly thinking we were pulling something over on our moms.

Reading is like breathing to me. I can't imagine living in a world where I can't escape between the pages of a book anytime I choose.

Cheryl said...

My parents weren't readers but I remember sneaking my Grandma's Harlequins and reading them as a tween. Other than that it was mainly school recommended reading.

LA Lighton said...

Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, and the Nancy Drew series, oh yeah and my grandmother's sweet Harlequins while sequestered at her house during summer months. My favorite book--that I usually re-read annually is The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, first published a few years before I was born. A classic!

Robin Kaye said...

Hi Gail~ Wow thanks for answering. I'm making a list and I'm going to check them all out. :)

@ Elizabeth - I loved the Chronicles on Narnia and read Tolkein too. Loved it!

@ Catslady - I know what you mean. I still adore libraries. I'm not a re-reader either. The only books I ever re-read are Pride and Prejudice and Louis Nizer's Reflections without Mirrors: An Autobiography of the Mind.

@ Zita - I'll have to check that one out. I've never heard of it.

@ Amanda- Sister John Claire had my left arm tied behind my back (I used to be a lefty) and she was hitting me with a metal-edged ruler. The woman could have passed for a linebacker on the Giants. I'm still afraid of nuns--well, the ones who wear black and white anyway. I used to play baseball with the Gray Nuns of Africa, they were a lot of fun. Sister Alice was a heck of a pitcher. :)

@ Debra - LOL- Love it! As for Sister John Claire--It was self defense! It didn't help that a few weeks before my sister stole all the pennies that the brownies were using in a game and flushed them down the toilet--she was always a sore loser. Yeah, they were happy to get rid of us Williams girls.

Robin Kaye said...

@ Christie - I read Charlotte's Web to my kids. I fell in love with it too--of course, I was in my 30's. Maybe I'm a late bloomer.

@ Brandy - Catcher in the Rye is banned? I remember having to read that in 6th or 7th grade. That was about the time my english teacher introduced me to Stephen King.

@ Sandy - How cool is it that you have one of your grandmother's books? You're so lucky!

@ Kima - I've been reading since before I remember. I know I was 3 years old or younger because of where we lived and I remember throwing a fit because I couldn't read one of my Dr. Seuss books--It took my mom a while to calm me down, then she told me it was written in French. No wonder I couldn't read it! Don't ask me why she bought it. I could read more French than she could. LOL

@ Cheryl - I was happy my mom was never a reader. If she had any idea what I was reading, she would have had a fit! I think I was in 6th or 7th grade when she found out I was reading The Carpetbaggers--one book she had read. Man did I get in trouble for that. If she only knew!

@ LA - Yet another book to add to the list. I can't wait to go back to the library!

Kristi said...

I used to read all the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books, but by the time I hit 11 I had read all the kids books in the library. They didn't have much YA so I moved on to Harlequin romances and then Danielle Steel and Stephen King.

My mother didn't read so she had no idea what kind of stuff I was reading.
Now there are so many great YA books. My daughter is 13, but she still picks up some of my books and reads them. I just make sure they're appropriate.

Diane Kelly said...

I always liked books with quirky, strong heroines who did goofy things. I remember one called "Depend on Katie John" that was pretty funny. Katie John was essentially an adolescent Ellen Degeneres.

Robin Kaye said...

@ Kristie - I swear I must be the only one who never read a Nancy Drew book--sigh...maybe that's why I don't write mystery. My fifteen year old loves all the Killer's books--she's read all of their YAs and is a huge fan! You should definitely have your daughter try them.

@ Diane - I'm going to have to find that book! It sounds great.

Anonymous said...

I adored Mr. Popper, too. Does anyone remember "Blueberries for Sal", "Ferdinand the Bull", and "Harold and his Purple Crayon"? Those are my favorites. I was such a huge fan of Trixie Belden, I've included references to her in my WIP. Thanks for the wonderful trip done memory lane Robin.