Friday, December 11, 2015

A Library Story

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit the ever-inspiring Tara at A Teaching Life for Roundup.

I've been reading JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES: A Book of Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Jane Manning. So many wonderful poems in there, from some of my favorite poets -- the whole book is like an Ode to Libraries. 

Today one poem in particular really speaks to me... and just like last week, it's by Nikki Grimes

Before I share the poem, I'd like to share a library story of my own, which I shared at Alabama Library Association's awards ceremony in 2011 when LEAVING GEE'S BEND was awarded the Children Book Prize.

The 5 of us: Ken, Stan (back)
Lynn, Irene (middle)
MicaJon (front)
"When I was about eleven years old my parents went on a week-long trip and divided up the five kids to leave at one grandparents’ house or another.

My parents were strategic in how they determined which kid would go to which grandparents’ house. They always paired one good kid with one bad kid – and honestly I can’t remember how things were decided for the fifth kid (Sorry, MicaJon!).

On this particular occasion, my brother Ken and I got Grandma and Granddaddy Dykes – my father’s parents-- who lived in tiny Port St. Joe, Florida, which is on the coast between Appalachicola and Panama City.

My brother Ken
My brother Ken was known to be mischievous. This was a kid who would sneak next door and cut the roses off the neighbor’s bushes.

Me, well, I was supposed to be the good one, the easy one. But on this trip I was completely homesick. I missed my mama, my bedroom with its purple walls, the horses out back. So I was giving Grandma fits – she did not know what to do with a teary-eyed, depressed little girl. Her first efforts were to cook: fluffy buttermilk biscuits, hoe cakes made from Hoover brand cornmeal and fried in an iron skillet, lima beans so tender from the hamhock they disappear in your mouth, chocolate pie with fluffy meringue, sour cream cake crusty on the top but moist in the middle.
Grandma Dykes in the kitchen

When none of that worked, she was distraught. She told me to get in the car, and we started driving. I thought for five minutes that maybe I had won, she was taking me home.

When we pulled into the parking lot of the Gulf County Public Library in Port St. Joe, I knew she was doing the next best thing. Grandma knew personally the power of books, of story, what escape and comfort can be found in a room filled with words.

She introduced me to the librarian – “this is my granddaughter Irene who loves to read” – and I remember the delight with which I was greeted, the warm arm on my shoulder, the pillow-splashed floor I sunk into after the librarian showed me where the horse books were.

So that became our routine for the rest of the week: Grandma would cook scrambled eggs and butter grits for breakfast, I’d eat, then she would drop me off at the library. I completely missed all the excitement of my brother Ken’s go-cart adventures, and only witnessed the results: giant holes in Granddaddy’s tomato patch where my brother had spun the wheels over and over again. I had found a haven, a cure for my sadness, relief from my anxiety.

It was almost as good as being at home. And of all the libraries I’ve ever visited, Gulf County Public Library remains dearest.

As for my brother Ken? He continues to give me great material for future books."

Wee book-loving me!

And now, the poem:

by Nikki Grimes

My library comes into view.
Almost there!
I sprint the last few yards,
charge up the stone steps, breathless,
and push through the double doors,
smiling at the sweet kingdom of story
inviting me in
to rest, to explore --
to dream.


  1. Love that "sweet kingdom of story"! Your grandma had your number, didn't she? She sounds like a great cook, too.

  2. The poem captures it well, doesn't it? I do love seeing your childhood pics, Irene, & hearing your story. What a nice grandma! And a nice librarian too. My saving grace was a bookmobile in the early years. What a wonderful woman that brought me books and more books! Thanks for this sweet post.

  3. What a grandma! How lucky you were to have an understanding adult watching over you that week.
    But what in the world is it about books??? I remember wishing I could get locked inside the library after it closed, so that I could just read and read and read! I have a favorite library, too. It's changed appearance some over the years, but the smell of books still lures me in.

  4. I love the back story that goes with this poem/book! My grandmother was a Chicago Public Librarian. Every summer, when we would go to visit her, I spent many happy hours at her libraries while she worked.

  5. I love the back story that goes with this poem/book! My grandmother was a Chicago Public Librarian. Every summer, when we would go to visit her, I spent many happy hours at her libraries while she worked.

  6. Such a beautiful memory, Irene! Your grandmother sounds like a true treasure. Nikki's poem pairs perfectly with your story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

  7. Library memories are treasures that can be mined, I'm discovering! My childhood library is coming alive for me again in my middle-grade manuscript, and I'm loving the experience of "being there" again. Nikki's poem gets it just right - a kingdom. Your personal story and childhood photos add so much to your post!

  8. Love, love, love this book and your story - from the Southern comfort dishes to the pillow splashed floor in the library that became your haven.

  9. I love that I can hear your voice telling me this story!

  10. This is one of my favorite blog posts you've ever done, Irene. I was right there with you the whole time, as if I was your shadow following you through this childhood memory. And your description of your grandmother's cooking ... divine.


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