Sunday, April 12, 2015

Emily's Runaway Imagination - by Beverly Cleary (In Honor of National Library Week)

I don't think I've read any of Beverly Cleary's books since my daughter (now seventeen) was in elementary school. I remember how much I loved that she loved the stories of spunky Ramona Quimby. Cleary's characters always seemed to be just the right mix of lovable, believable, and vulnerable yet strong. All of these adjectives describe young Emily, growing up in 1920s Oregon. During a time and a place in which a ride in a motorcar, or even eating one banana, could be a special treat, having a library in town was something that needed to be imagined before it could actually happen. Emily is jealous of her city cousin Muriel who goes to the library every week and gets books like Black Beauty to read, for free! Emily so wants to read Black Beauty, too, but Pitchfork, Oregon has no library. Emily tells her mother how much she would like to have a library in town, which prompts her mother to write a letter to the State Library in Salem to ask how to start a library. Emily is proud to be the person who stamps the letter and to take it to be posted. And she is thrilled to discover that the State Library answered the letter with a crate containing 75 books! Emily's mother becomes the town librarian and makes plans to get monetary and book donations to help the library grow.

There is so much to love about this book. I think what I like best is that Emily understands that she is an important person in her town of Pitchfork, Oregon. After all not only is her Uncle the mayor, her mother is the librarian! Emily demonstrates her love for the library in many ways: she donates the dollar of prize money she wins to purchase the book Black Beauty for the town (and, of course) is the first one to read it. She is so proud to see her name in the bookplate as the person who bought it for the town; she helps plan and attends fundraisers for the library, even if it means wearing itchy, fancy clothes; and she makes a valentine for her neighbor, Mr. Quock, when she discovers that he is going back to China and donating his house to the town to use as the library.

Published in 1961, Cleary was writing about a time that even the young baby boomer readers of the day could only have imagined themselves. However, one of the wonderful things about her stories is that they remain so relevant across time. Compare this passage a year when people had no money for the picture show or for gasoline to go riding around in their automobiles they came to the library. During that hard winter there often were not enough books to go around. The state library sent three crates at a time instead of one...Mama checked books in and checked them right out again...
to this one from Forbes magazine (June 19, 2014) from the article "The End of the Story? Why Libraries Still Matter"
The public library in Kinnelon, New Jersey, is a good example of a library that is successfully transforming itself into a “tech hub” by offering free access to computers, the Internet, software, technology training, e-books and online downloads to all community members. After the recent recession, those resources played a crucial role in helping out-of-work and underemployed adults adapt to the challenging economic environment by providing computer classes, job fairs and mobile-device workshops. The library also boosted its offering of family-oriented programs, such as story-time programs, book clubs and free movie nights.
While the services have changed, the importance of the library, especially during hard times is clear. It is also important to note that library services do change. It is why libraries stay relevant even while the nay-sayers believe we can do without them.

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