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The Curiosity Corner

Updated on November 4, 2013
With the volume of questions I was asking as a child, my parents knew that the Pound A Peg toy would outlive its usefulness.
With the volume of questions I was asking as a child, my parents knew that the Pound A Peg toy would outlive its usefulness. | Source

Childhood Questions

Our oldest son Johnny was curious from the day he was born. As his birthdays passed, his language skills grew and of course, his curiosity increased.

When he seemed engrossed playing with a certain toy, a question would come out of the blue on some topic that was stirring in his head.

Questions like "Where do the birds live at night?" and "Why did the mama cat leave that one kitty behind?" had easy answers. We knew that the questions would get progressively harder as he got older. Having an inquisitive child doesn't make any parent look forward to answering questions about the birds and the bees.

But it wasn't so long ago that my parents dealt with their own inquisitive child asking similar questions.

I can remember seeing a slight wince on my mother's face when I would ask a question that she just dreaded giving me the answer, especially if it was on a 'delicate' topic. I can also remember my father's frustration when I would ask a question about his bookkeeping that he did at home after hours which entailed keeping accounts for his job.

The Information Highway

Because it was the 1950's, the information highway had not yet been paved for modern families. There were no databases, no internet, and no computer hard drives. Anything you wanted to know had to be found in books. And we had plenty of them!

You see, when I was five years old, my father became a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman for the Encyclopedia Americana Company. So in our house, the information highway was a bookcase full of the most current encyclopedias complete with photographs. For the most part, we felt they rivaled best sellers of the day for choice reading. We had Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys for pleasure reading, but if you wanted to dream about far off places, the encyclopedias were right up there with travelogue magazines.

A set of Encyclopedia Americana
A set of Encyclopedia Americana | Source

Why My Father Was So Smart

For his sales kit for selling encyclopedias door to door, my father had to purchase one new set of encyclopedias for $50, which was considered a discounted price but still quite a big expense in the 1950's for a man who had not yet collected his first paycheck. Each salesman was required to have one sample set at all times. When the first set of 28 books was sold, he was required to buy another discounted priced set to replace the one he sold. I can still remember how heavy it was lifting just 4 of them was when it was time to dust the shelves or pack the books up in boxes when my father sold our set to a customer. He would give that customer a break on the cost and thereby was making room on our shelves for the newest editions.

His first week on the job, the main complaint he heard from his customers was that they were not happy they had to wait as long as 3 weeks for delivery after giving their $20 deposit on the $125 sale, quite a sum in those days to buy encyclopedias to help further your child's education. A lot could go wrong financially in 3 weeks. Other expenses would inevitably come up, causing customers to cancel their order on the balance they owed and their deposits were, of course, cheerfully refunded.

My father noticed that encyclopedia salesmen from other companies (like Grolier or Funk) were having the same problem with customers cancelling orders, saying that too much time had gone by waiting for delivery or that money was needed elsewhere, so little Michael's encyclopedia gift was going to have to wait a while longer. Many salesmen lost sales.

After his first sale, my father was a man who didn't like waiting 3 weeks for the remainder of his money from a sale. He decided that if he wanted to get ahead in this job and make a good living at it, then he had to purchase additional sets for his sales kit to be prepared by having more volumes on hand. My father was counting on the fact that satisfied customers would happily refer him to their friends. And they did.

So in his second week of employment he asked his uncle (considered wealthy by our standards) for a loan of $250 to buy five discounted sets of encyclopedias to carry in the trunk of his car to have on hand in order to make an immediate delivery. He would work out payment schedules with his customers so that they wouldn't have to pay for them the way the company wanted it done (pay in full upon delivery).

When not working on his accounting books, he enjoyed paging through the volumes with their extraordinary photographs, reading about far off places and learning way more than he ever learned in school. My father was a smart man..... but I just thought he was always smart. He was a reader, something that he instilled in my sisters and brothers and I.


Look It Up!

He handled the numbered and alphabetized encyclopedias with confidence and was very knowledgeable about many subjects. He knew where to find almost any reference or the answer to any question a customer would ask. In quick time, he became the top salesman at the company's local branch office. As long as he remained their top salesman, he was given a new set of books for his sales kit for free when the new editions were published. In the 1970's when he was promoted to inside office manager, he still received a free new set of books each year. He only went to people's homes when he was training new salesmen (rarely were women employed for door to door sales).

So, by age five, when my maturing questions became indepth and the answers were not satisfactory, he taught me how to use the numbered and alphabetical volumes. In short order, his answers to my questions were to tell me to "Look it up!" while pointing to the bookcase of encyclopedias that stood off to the corner of our parlour.

I nicknamed the area "The Curiosity Corner."


School Age Curiosity

By the time I was in kindergarten, my speech and language were a bit ahead of my peers so that I became easily bored with the curriculum, or lack thereof. The classroom setup was nothing like you see today; there was only one table for working with clay and paste, and the floor for 15 students to either take a nap on or sit on while the teacher or the aide read a storybook. Once a week, painting easels would appear with paints and that was the only part of kindergarten that was of interest to me.

In the 1950's, kindergarten teachers and their aides (assistants) were not required to have the amount of education and degrees that they do in this day and age, nor were they well-equipped to handle children with any level of learning disabilities, special needs or higher intelligence. Today in the 21st century, they are required to have all kinds of degrees for the same teaching position.

While parents often looked at kindergarten as a welcomed respite in part of their day, children looked forward to playing with other children and learning how to work with paint, clay and the all important storybook time. But not me - - I was bored with the storybooks which I felt were childish. I thought the other children were still immature, and I just wanted more interesting stuff to do or else to go home.

One day a note came home pinned to my shirt (the ultimate embarrassment for a child) saying I was disruptive in class and asked my parents to please train Johnny to first raise his hand to ask questions, and to please work with Johnny on his outbursts.

At home, of course, I didn't have to raise my hand to ask a question, but I did have to wait my turn to speak when in the company of others. I knew what the classroom rules were, as the teacher and aides had spent the better part of the first week of school drumming it into our heads.

Since my parents felt that "training Johnny to raise his hand to ask questions" fell under the teacher's purview, another note went back to her the next morning, this time in an envelope which I carried in my pocket.

My father wrote back "While Johnny has been taught much of the social etiquette required for a 5 year old regarding saying please, thank you, may I and excuse me, he may not always in tune with exactly when those social graces should be called into practice for which I apologize. Not all children take that moment to think about whether it is time-appropriate or place-appropriate. They just want to know the answer. With that in mind, could you please provide a "Curiosity Corner" so that Johnny and other children can have access to tools that will help to satisfy the answers to their questions?"

This note in turn prompted an phone call from the principal of the school asking for my parents' presence in her office the next morning.

The School's First Set of Encyclopedias

The next morning my mother, who also worked, couldn't take the time off to attend the meeting, but my father was able to make his own hours. I was not invited; I was to attend class with the other children.

After the meeting, he left the principal's office with an order in his hand for a set of encyclopedias.

When I got home that afternoon, he was packing up the set in our house; he had sold the school my beloved set of books. I was nearly in tears but he assured me a new set would grace our shelves momentarily. He only had to get them out of the trunk of his car, but wanted to clear our shelves before bringing them into the house.

My father delivered our set to the school the next morning. When I was quite a bit older, I learned that this strategy was in the back of his mind when he wrote the note he sent back to school with me that day.


Now going to school every day was not a chore, I looked forward to it. I sort of 'held court' in The Curiosity Corner of the kindergarten classroom, paging through the volumes and showing my new friends various stories of interest. The teachers and the aides appreciated my keeping other children busy so they could work one on one with children who required a little more attention.

Soon everyone referred to the encyclopedia corner as "The Curiosity Corner" and it was a hit with most of the kids. Some children, who up to that point had no interest in books (or me), all of a sudden developed an interest. Of course I couldn't read above a second grade level, but I had heard my father read the stories so many times at home, one would think I was reading each page. The subjects in the books varied so much that it was impossible not to find something of interest. If you didn't like one volume, you filed it back (by number and letter) and chose another to look through.

It never once occurred to the school to get the children's version of encyclopedia's - for example Grolier or Funk. My father sold a new set of books to the school every two years until we moved away when I was in fourth grade.

I sometimes wondered if another encyclopedia salesman replaced my father so that the school could keep getting updated books.

Years later, raising my own children, encyclopedias were not as revered as they were in my childhood home. The World Wide Web had arrived. Just as my father's customers had to have the most updated version of the encyclopedias, my family had to keep upgrading computers, internet providers, and electronic toys to bring things in line with the 21st century.

Now all you have to do is hit the "Enter" button and the world is at your fingertips.
Now all you have to do is hit the "Enter" button and the world is at your fingertips. | Source

The Curiosity Corner - 1980's style

Years later, raising my own children, encyclopedias were not as revered as they were in my childhood home. The World Wide Web had arrived. Just as my father's customers had to have the most updated version of the encyclopedias, my family had to keep upgrading computers, internet providers, and electronic toys to bring things in line with the 21st century.

In the 1980's for my two sons, "The Curiosity Corner" in our house was stocked with two of every gadget known to man. Our oldest son Johnny enjoyed books on tape (which required a tape recorder, the tape with the story narrated on it, and the actual book to follow along with) but they soon were replaced with his first computer (which required limited internet access), his first video games (which required so many accessories and cartridges) and eventually ---- cell phones. Because his brother was only a year behind him and he enjoyed the same "toys" as his brother, we had everything in duplicate.

And I became one jealous dad.

Even my wife said I was just plain jealous.

They had toys I never even dreamed of.

And the toys kept getting better and better, with upgraded versions, and escalating price tags as years went by.

Pretty soon the concept of what I had grown up with as "The Curiosity Corner" fell by the wayside because there was nothing there to keep our boys curious.

In their rooms, our sons had their own computers, their own video game systems, and the possibilities were endless in advertising the electronic world.

Ten years ago, at the ripe old age of 55, I got my first computer. Just for me. That I didn't have to share. With anyone.

That was BIG.

One of the disks that came with the computer was called ENCARTA. For the younger generation reading this, it was a CD chock full of historical information and I was in heaven.

Encyclopedias Come To You Tube

Can you imagine if we had encyclopedias on video back then? Well, in a way, we did. Here's what I mean:

Television shows like Jim Fowler and Marlin Perkins on "Wild Kingdom" and Walter Cronkite on "Eyewitness to History" (the 20/20 of the 1960's) had subject matter that brought the encyclopedias to life for us. To see on television those far off places and animals that even the local zoo didn't have was amazing.

Wikipedia vs Encyclopedia, Which Is Better?


While this YouTube video discussed a lot of mundane issues, this guy's animated presentation just made me laugh. His name is lockergnome and he compares Wikipedia to Encyclopedias.

That is the part I wanted to share with you.... the rest is just comic relief.

The Curiosity Corner - 2001 style

When I think back to how I was raised and how my sons were raised, it really wasn't that much different. We all got basically the same information. We just got it in different formats.

Mine was from reference books that were providing information in its infancy and my children got similar information after it had been

  • authored,
  • verified,
  • circulated,
  • traveled through cyberspace via the world wide web and
  • zapped into the computer screen in front of them.

By the time they went to college, the biggest expense wasn't the dreaded college book bill, it was the MAC computer they were required to purchase. We bought their first college computers, they were on their own for the upgraded versions and for each subsequent college year.

Both our sons are raised now, both are physicians, and yes, both have set up a mini-Curiosity Corner in their homes for their young children.

Their Curiosity Corners are a picture out of the 25th century - one shelf of books, one shelf of DVD's and two computers and a wall of televisions hooked up to numerous video game systems.

My, we have come a long way.

© John De Vettese July 2013

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Submit a Comment

  • here-s johnny profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

    Thank you for your comment and compliment, Jabelufiroz.

  • jabelufiroz profile image


    5 years ago from India

    Great hub on School Age Curiosity. Voted up.


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