I found these ten PEARLS BEFORE SWINE books at a yard sale this morning. They were in a box with some Calvin and Hobbes and Far Side treasuries. I was drawn to these because I am not only a fan of the newspaper strip, but I also think Pastsis’s TIMMY FAILURE series is a glorious blend of WIMPY KID meets HARVEY meets OF MICE AND MEN (there’s a plug–I wish every upper elementary/middle grade reader had at least one TIMMY FAILURE title in his or her reading toolbox before they hit the 11th grade ((where they find me)).
But, more than a plug for Pastis here is the manner in which these books were purchased.
I started looking about the for the reader. How did this collection of comics end up in a cardboard box at the end of a driveway on a Saturday morning? If I knew the answer, I knew the transaction–at least on my part–would be a little more difficult than simply handing five dollars to whoever was sitting at the folding card table near the entrance to the garage. When you know who is selling the books, the transaction takes a turn.
Does it for you too?
Marking other items in the driveway stood a young man about nineteen or twenty years of age. These must have been his books. I do what anyone of us would do in the drive of a perfect of a stranger.
I asked him. “Did these belong to you?”
He smiled and looked at the stack I was holding. “Yes. I read all of those when I was a kid. I loved those books.” His face matched every word he was saying. It was if he were present–in a physical sense–to answer my question, but this kid had gone back to his room, back to the kitchen table, back to the couch, back to the backpack to sneak a peek during a science class. By way of his reader-self, this young man went back to the very act of having read these books in his youth.
What would you do? You’d do just what I did.
First, I asked him if he had heard that Pastis now had a series of books for young readers called the TIMMY FAILURE series. He didn’t, but I saw his eyes light up like a reader who sensed he or she were getting ready to go back into the stacks one more time for the promise of new books.
Second, I told him that I was a high school teacher and that these books would be going into my classroom so that even more readers could experience and enjoy the genius of Stephan Pastis.
Third. . .I told him that I didn’t have the money on hand to buy these books. So, we came to an agreement:
1). We would set the books aside so that I could buy them after running some errands.
2). The young man had the time that I ran those errands to consider whether or not he really wanted to sell the books to me.
3). We enacted a no-prejudice, opt-out for the purchase on the young man’s part. If I came back with the money, he could tell me that he no longer wanted to sell the books.
This was the agreement we came to. . .and when I returned an hour later, the books were still there. I could still purchase them. And I did.
But what also happened in that driveway this morning is an opportunity to spend one. . .more. . .minute. . .thinking about the books we treasure. Can we lend this same consideration when the ownership of the books and the reading experience belongs to another person? To our students?
Can we adopt this perspective when we think about students who want to return to a title or a series over and over again? Are we standing by as lead readers with a suggested “next” book or “next” series?
Are we having essential conversations whether in the driveway or the hallways regarding books, the love of books, and the reading experience that keeps us from book to book?
Are we looking in yard sales and thinking of the kid who is going to want to read all ten of these books I bought today with him or her in mind?
Money and books having traded hands, I learned that the young man had just returned home from study abroad in Australia. He will be returning to his studies to become a professor of psychology at IU Bloomington this fall.
We talked about the openness and willingness to seek out opportunities like studying abroad. I told him of a time I found myself in Guantanamo Bay because I saw an index card on a bulletin board when I was about his age.
We talked about comics and how important the ability to read comics was for him as a young reader. Having a found a balance between comics and the classroom reading he was assigned in highschool, what I found was a charming young man ready to not only engage in random conversations about reading with perfect strangers in his driveway. I found a young man who able to talk in terms of “what he wanted” and what the word “want” means for those who find themselves in the “wanting place.”
This young man was certainly on a path.
Part of this path was paved with these PEARLS BEFORE SWINE treasuries.
What do we “want” FOR our readers? The standards and the curriculum certainly indicate what we want FROM our readers (it’s probably the easier of the FOR/FROM discussion lines when it comes to reading and response).
For my readers, I would want (short list, didactic, no particular order):
That they have one reading experience that they treasure.
That they have one book or a series of books that is “theirs” by way of reading experience and love for the book.
That they come into contact with other readers who share experiences already or with whom they might pass on a reading experience later on down the road.
That they know books are something we talk about as quickly as we might trade them off. Like a car, they come with the memories of having taken them some place.
That they know that they can choose to keep or to share a book when the time comes to do either.
Later on this week. . .I’m going to put a copy of TIMMY FAILURE in that young man’s mailbox.
I owe it to him. He has given my Room 407 readers a gift of inestimable value that I took away for ten bucks.
He has offered me PEARLS. . .and they are all mine (ours).