How Children's Books (Mis)Shape Lives
According to experts, the reading habits of children can greatly improve and enhance their lives both as kids and adults. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education recommends beginning to read to your baby when he or she is six months old. As stated in their 2003 report, "Hearing words over and over helps her become familiar with them. Reading to your baby is one of the best ways to help her learn." This early book activity can not only help direct kids towards fulfillment, but can also help them understand more about themselves and others, but also this remarkable world that surrounds them.
This is the story of one child – now an adult – and how his exposure to children's books not only helped him to navigate through the maze of growing up, but helped him to become the man he is today. I will not name this person since he is known to many of you as a writer on this site and I wish to respect his privacy. I know that makes you curious but I just can't tell you. So hem and haw all you want but my lips are sealed. So cry if you must but I'll never....oh, what the hell, it's Shadesbreath. But you didn't hear that from me. Shadesbreath is a name he gave himself because he thought it sounded cool and made him out to be some kind of intergalactic Howdy Doodie.
This is not meant as retribution in any way for the many times he has ripped me off, stolen my ideas and laughed in my face about it, parodied me, or generally made fun of me to an international audience. No, this is purely a sociological study of the how books screwed up...that is, formed the child that became the man...so to speak.
Our sad tale...wait, did I say “sad?” Oh that's foreshadowing. I don't want to do that. No. Starting again.
Our sad tale....damn!
Our tale begins...okay.... when this child was 10 years old, locked in his room, the Roy Rogers curtains drawn tightly to the mysteries of the night, a dull circle of amber cast by a Trigger night light offering the only illumination. The one thing he had was books. The library had become almost a second home to him, but tired of reading, he turned to his own imagination and explorations of what was at hand. It was during this “fact finding mission,” as he would later come to call it, that a most remarkable thing happened to him. It was most amazing, but try as he might, he couldn't understand what it was. So the very next day he ran to the library and got a book he thought might explain what wondrous thing had physically occurred. This is what he checked out from the librarian, Miss Maple.
Wow. What information he got from that book! Naturally, the boy became fascinated by his discovery, sure that no one in the history of mankind had ever discovered this before, and so he continued his explorations. After one particularly lengthy experiment, low and behold, another miraculous event transpired. If his first discovery confused him, this one blew his socks off...quite literally. The following morning, he was off to the library again. He was sure he would find the information he needed. Miss Maple stamped the book and gave it to him and home he went.
Okay. So now he knew what it was, but the book failed to answer the question of why. Why had it happened? What's it called? Was he Captain Kirk, exploring brave, new worlds? He knew where to find his answer, and so the following morning he made his now familiar run to library.
Double wow! What a discovery! Shadesbreath becam...um...he... became rather fanatical about his explorations now. He played and played. He played to a degree that was considered unhealthy, and it was common for him to wake up black and blue. That's when the nightmares started. Horrible, emasculating nightmares. He couldn't understand what the horrid dreams meant, but he knew where to find out. Oh yes, he knew, and this is what he found, stamped by Miss Maple as she raised an eyebrow.
Whew! He learned that it wouldn't really fall off in his hand, thank heavens, that would be bad, but it certainly put some fear into him and he was more careful in the future. As he became more familiar with his “toy,” - for that is how he thought of it – he decided like many foolish boys before him to give it a name. A name that truly described it. But he could think of nothing. He knew the library would give him the solution. This time, Miss Maple raised two eyebrows!
Wah-lah! From that moment forward, the boy called his squirt gun – for that is how he thought of it – Uncle Wiggily. Boys will be boys, and as such, they grow into...uh...older boys. As he grew older, all of the other young chaps in his school were starting to date girls and take them to the movies and malt shops and lover's leap (where, he had heard, unspeakable things happened) and frankly, he didn't see what the attraction to girls was all about. He thought he should give it a try however, and who better to ask out on a date than that little girl next door, Amanda. But what would he do with her. He hadn't a clue, so off to the library, which had continued to answer his questions in life. He noticed Miss Maple stamped the book kind of delicately and winked at him. He read the book when he got home, but it was kind of boring.
Darn it! This sort of thing just didn't interest him at all. But he knew he had to try. Oh, he had heard the whispers at school, so he knew this was imperative. He must succeed with Amanda. Not the most imaginative or confident boy, he went to the trusted library to find help him succeed in his mission. The other boys had started to talk about the librarian, Miss Maple, with her ample bosoms and good looks, but he just didn't see it. When she stamped his book he could have sworn she touched herself.
This is the book he read for inspiration.
In the morning the cock crowed three times...so to speak. Today was the big day. Shades...oh...he went to ask Amanda to go to Lover's Leap with him, and surprisingly, she agreed. But things did not go as he imagined. No. Not well at all. He was crushed and embarrassed, and his mind swirled deeper and deeper into a dark pit of despair. The following morning, he trudged to the stinkin library as slow as a three-legged turtle. He found the book he thought would help him understand what was wrong with him. Miss Maple didn't even look at him and he was sure the whole town knew of his failure. Here is the damn book!
Oh great! He was a wimp. The book proved it. “Stupid, stupid!” he cursed. He decided, in a spasm of truth and confession, that he was what he was and there was no fighting it. The time had come to live the life he was meant to live, without excuses, come what may. He began to do just that, and as you might expect, when to the friggin library, where he was sure he would inhale some damn mold spores that would probably kill him, and picked out the book that would help him be his screwed up self. Miss Maple wouldn't even wait on him. Instead, Mr. Wormwood did, and he raised his overgrown eyebrows, winked his eye like a torn, transparent lampshade, and touched himself, for crissakes! Here's the friggin book!
And so he did...wear his tutu everywhere, I mean. Well, that boy grew up, true to his nature and his natural proclivities. Eventually, he lived without shame or concern for what others thought of him, and it was books and his exposure to them that helped him overcome his confusion so inherent in a young person's life. Without the books, where would he have been? Shadesbreath never...oh damn it! I mean the person who shall remain nameless would never have tried to date Amanda and known, in his heart of heart, that it was a different dance he danced, tutu and all. Today, he lives a satisfied life out in the country in seclusion, but is very happy. He has a relationship that fulfills his every need, and he cares not what others think about it (but keeps it a secret due to laws and whatnot.) When he realized who he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, he went for one last time to the little small-town library, and checked out his final book. Mr. Wormwood stamped his book, and this time, the former boy raised his eyebrows, winked and touched himself. Ah, the circle of life. That book rests on his coffee table today, as a reminder of who he was and who he is now, and a life's journey to nirvana...and as a dear reminder of his significant other who has brought him such joy. Here is the book.