Friday, May 4, 2012

Dead End in Norvelt - by Jack Gantos

Although this Newbery-Award-Winning book tells a story of a boy with a true love for books and reading (and using books as building blocks for igloos!) it appears that twelve-year old Jack Gantos did not visit a library during the summer of 1962. It may have been because he was grounded, but more likely it is that there is no public library in Norvelt, Pennsylvania. An internet search of libraries serving the area leads me to believe that  Norvelt residents have to travel to Mt. Pleasant to use the public library.

View Larger Map
Balloons show Public Libraries near Norvelt.

Although grounded for most of the summer, Jack is given occasional reprieve to assist his neighbor, Miss Volker, with writing the obituaries of original Norvelt residents, who drop dead that summer at an alarming rate. In dictating one of these obituaries, Miss Volker uses a library metaphor to demonstrate the importance of preserving information:

"...every living soul is a book of their own history, which sits on the ever-growing shelf in the library of human memories. Sadly, we don't know the history of every person who ever lived....But here in Norvelt we had one of those librarians who collected the tiniest books of human history. Mrs. Hambsy...was the first postmistress of Norvelt and she saved all the lost letters, those scraps of history that ended up as undeliverable. But they were not unwanted. Mrs.Hamsby carefully pinned each envelope to the wall, so that the rooms of her house were lined from floor to ceiling, letter upon letter....You were always welcome to unpin any envelope and read the orphaned letter, as if you were browsing a library of abandoned histories."

Miss Volker is rightly concerned that with Mrs. Hamsby's death, this archive will be destroyed. Library archivists know that treasures (e.g. rare photographs; signatures of famous people) are sometimes found lurking in a forgotten place, as seen in this New York Times story about a recent discovery at the Brown University archives. And the power of  letters in shaping and telling history is evident in this  New York Times story about the release of Osama Bin Laden's personal letters.

1 comment:

  1. Good post -- and very good use of an embedded map!