“Conversations That Matter (to me).”

I went out this afternoon between rainstorms to return a box of picture books to the New Albany-Floyd County Library. What I brought back ended up being something of great value. . .with no return date. . .merely a promise that we might meet in this same place again. Maybe not. But, sometime in July, instead of taking something from the library (which. . .okay. . .I will still do), I am going to leave something for a special little guy who gave me five minutes of his time to talk about books.

I was busy pulling titles by authors I wanted to study this week. I had quite a pile going. Titles by Florian, Lasky, and Henkes. New picture book titles to put on Goodreads. New titles to share with friends at Twitter and Facebook. Then, I thought about the All Write! conference coming up in June. Having read Schooled this morning, I went to the K section to find more of Gordon Korman’s titles. I pulled Swindled, Zoobreak, and Framed and put them on my pile.

I took my stack of books to the check out desk and placed them casually on the counter. As I was pulling my library card from my wallet, I noticed this little boy, no older than my own Noah, looking through my stack. My friends at Twitter and Facebook will probably guess that I was intrigued by what this little fellow wanted from my stack. Was he in awe of my selections? Did he see me as a scholar of early picture books preparing for another week of reading/exploration? No. He wanted to ask me something.

“Hey, mister. Were these books just donated?”

It was a good question. No doubt the question came from looking at a pile of older books. A large pile of older books. But I noted while he asked the question that his eyes were big and his index finger was touching the three Korman books as though counting them over and over again.

“No.” I replied. “I’m checking these books out today.” Then I thought, Wait. I have a reader here, let’s see where this conversation goes. “Have you read any of these books?”

“Well, I started Swindled, but I didn’t finish it. You should know something. You have them in the wrong order.”

I didn’t think anything of the order I had placed the books on the counter. To me they were just a stack. But, we were in the middle of something here. “Really?” I asked. “What order do they go in, fella?”

He answered, “Well, I started Swindled, but I didn’t finish it. I’d like to. Then I would read the other two books.” He then put the other two books into the order they should be read.

I picked the books up off from the pile and offered them to him. He put out his hands excitedly. “Really, mister? Can I have these books?”

“Sure. Why not?” I replied. “I have a bunch of books here and I don’t even know if I can get to these this week, but it looks like you would really like to read them.”

“Oh, I would!” the boy said, his hands still reaching out for the books.

“Wait a minute,” I teased. “Are you the kind of reader who brings books back on time? I need to know, when the time comes, that I can come back and get these. Do you promise to bring these books back when they are due?” The librarian behind the counter winked at me. She seemed to hint that she knew this young reader. She nodded her head as if to indicate this reader could be trusted.

“Oh, I will.” He said. “I will.”

“Very good, then,” I said putting the books into his hands. “You want to know something? At the end of June, I am going to have dinner with the author.” Yes. I name-dropped with a young reader. I can’t help myself. His eyes went even wider at the notion that this stranger he was talking to may have some kind of connection with the author of the books he was holding.

“Really, mister? That’s so neat. I wish I could do that.”

What could I do? I had to offer something, otherwise this great piece of information would only belong to me and remain a disconnect for this excited reader. After all, I had brought it up.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said as his mother came up to be part of this interaction happening at the checkout counter. “When I go to that dinner, I will try to get the author to sign a book for you. Do you come in here often?”

“Oh. Just about every week!” Now his mother was nodding and smiling. Every adult figure in our proximity had affirmed this child as a patron. . .as a reader.

“Well. This is what I will do then,” I said, “I will give the book to the librarian. Just in case we miss each other.”

The boy checked out his books and left with his mother, smiling. With my three Gordon Korman titles. I would have to wait to read them now, but I had something else for which to look forward. I was going to make good on this promise to gift a book to this child, who communicated his excitement and curiosity for reading. Who would be bold enough to go through another patron’s stack of books and to begin contemplating which of those titles he would want for himself.

Are we prepared to have these impromptu conversations with readers where we find them? Are we prepared to feign a little ignorance in order for the younger reader to show us the order in which we are read through a series? Can we find some measure of excitement for reading that transcends two people checking out books at a counter. As I checked out the remaining books in my pile, I thought, I let three titles go, but I will bring one back. And who knows what will come of that gift?

I told Abby Johnson, Twitter friend and super librarian, about the interaction. Both she and the other staff member on duty told me that the little boy did, indeed, come in quite often and was a fine young man. I was affirmed, though I hadn’t needed to be, that the interaction was a good one. I didn’t ask ¬†for his name wanting to protect his confidentiality. . .and maybe at the same time wanting to keep the whole transaction archetypal. I didn’t know his name. He didn’t know mine. At the end of this transaction, he will forever be, “reader.” I hope I am “kind man who gave me a signed copy of a book.” I get the longer title here, but I did have to sacrifice three books to earn it.

And if Gordon should ask if I have read his series of books with the funny dog on the cover, I will have a viable excuse for having to say “Why no.” And then I can add, “But I know someone who has.”

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