by Carolyn Trower

I had a most enjoyable morning at the Ralls County Library Thursday. Children’s Librarian Leanne Reed read the children Pete the Cat books. My grandkids are teenagers now and Pete was a stranger to me. It didn’t take long for me to see why the children sat enthralled with big smiles on their faces. Singing along to “My buttons, my buttons, my four – groovy – buttons,” they bubbled with the best of childish exuberance.
The lessons or morals of the three books read stayed with me. When Pete lost all his four groovy buttons, he discovered he had one left, his belly button. “Buttons come and buttons go, but do we cry? No, no, no.” How often in life do we lose “stuff” one by one? On one level Pete’s advice can refer to the little everyday things we lose. On another level it could refer to something bigger.
I had to laugh after the second book, “I Love My White Shoes.” His white shoes don’t stay white long. Pete steps in something red, then something blue, then mud, and finally water. So, his white shoes are white again, but they’re wet. I did some thinking as I listened to the end of the book, and then laughed as Leanne read, “No matter what we step in, we just step along, singing our song.” Flashes of Forrest Gump running across America came to mind and his quip, “It happens.”
Years ago, when I was working on my Masters in English education, I had to read all the Newbery Award books. It was one of the best classes I ever had. Not only did it get me in tune with what my young adult students would and should be reading, it opened up a whole library of books that I had somehow missed when I was younger. While I was reading about outlaws, pirates, and explorers, I missed “Carry on Mr. Bowditch,” The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler,” and “The Bronze Bow.”
I read “Caddie Woodlawn,” but missed “Sarah, Plain and Tall.” I used “Johnny Tremain,” “The Giver,” and “Sounder” in my classroom. I read “Bridge to Terrabithia” to talk about death and loss from the kid’s point of view. Many of the Newbery books have a historical setting and teach kids so much more than what happened when.
On a whim recently I watched the movie “The Rats of NIMH.” I remembered reading the book to my fifth graders and telling them it was based on an article the author had seen in a New York newspaper about rats that had escaped from a testing facility. The author, Robert O’Brien, let his imagination go and came up with a story that made you think about intelligence, prejudice, and stereotypes. It opened up many topics for discussion and set the kids to wondering and thinking about what they heard and read.
I like books that make me think and wonder. I believe it’s vital for young people to have those reading experiences to help them make sense of the “real world” when it’s thrust upon them.
Go to the library and check out what they have to offer. Go on a Thursday morning, you’ll be glad you did.