See, I don't buy books. Hardly ever. I'm very particular about what books I keep. The books on my shelves all have some meaning, some memories attached to them. Here I'll share them, a few books at a time.
This week, I'm going back to fifth grade. My favorite grade school year. Because my teacher loved to read, and boy, did she show it. She shared so many wonderful books with us and got us excited about reading for fun. I don't remember much else about fifth grade except the reading. These are some of the books that stuck with me.
c1976, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Early in August 1907, the first year of their marriage, Abel and Amanda went to picnic in the woods some distance from the town where they lived. The sky was overcast, but Abel didn't think it would be so inconsiderate as to rain when he and his lovely wife were in the mood for an outing.How do you not fall in love with a book that begins this way? To fifth grade me, it was like magic. From sentence structure to word choice, I was inspired. I'm not much for survival/adventure stories, which this most certainly is, but I admired Steig's way with words and adored the illustrations (this is definitely one of my all-time favorite covers - I'd buy a poster print of it if I could find it!) so much that this instantly became one of my beloved books. In fact, I think it deserves a re-read this weekend.
c1967, published by Bantam Doubleday Dell
Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back. She didn't like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes. Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place, and indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place. And that's why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.Well, it's obvious now that I judge a book by its first paragraph. I need a hook. Doesn't have to be exciting. In fact, both of these books mention picnics on the first page - not that I have a particular bias toward picnics. But the author's writing style should shine with those first few sentences, and they do here.
My fifth grade teacher read this book aloud to the class, a little bit each day during the school year. I hated listening. Didn't really know how. I often fell asleep. But because of that hooker of a first page, I stayed awake every day to hear more of Claudia and Jamie's adventures at the Met. And I learned to listen. Before, when we would do round-robins (you know, when each student reads a paragraph of the textbook? ::shudders::), I wouldn't absorb a single thing. I would always have to go back and re-read on my own. But after learning - perhaps accidentally - to focus my attention on my teacher while she was reading this book, I became a much better listener.
c1995, published by Scholastic
I don't remember if this was the Miss Spider book that my fifth grade teacher shared with us, but this is the one on my shelf. I bought it many years later because I happened upon it in a bookstore, and it instantly took me back to my fifth grade classroom. I remember being in awe at the saturation of color in the illustrations. The pages were so shiny, filled on all edges with reds, greens, blues, yellows - just look at that cover! And what I especially appreciated is that my teacher shared a picture book with her fifth grade students. This came as a surprise to me because I was under the impression that picture books were for kids who couldn't read very well - so they needed much shorter books with lots of pictures. Who knows how this absurd notion got into my head, but it quickly retreated once I laid eyes on this one. Picture books can be for all ages - and can be loved for both their literary and artistic value, a lesson learned at the age of ten.
Well, I certainly enjoyed that trip down memory lane. And you? I'm starting to think that I should have made this meme more general, maybe something like "reading memories," so that others can join. But I like how personal this is. Instead, I'll end with a question.
What did you read in fifth grade?