We live where the sidewalk ends, where the City stops and the County begins. One mile from our home there is a beautiful lake (our city's reservoir) and a marina. For the last few years our mobile library named "The Reading Railroad" has sat in semi-retirement at the edge of the woods, overlooking the lake. On our weekly visits we weren't thinking about it's retirement.
We just enjoyed our Thursday visits, assuming it would always be around. Since the beginning of our home schooling journey it has been a highlight of our week. How wonderful it was to know we could walk through the woods or take a short drive to browse the shelves and chat with the librarians. We took it for granted that we'd be able to continue this way for years. At times I did wonder why it never moved from it's spot at the lake. I wondered why was it not being driven around to other places, to meet other children who might not have regular access to books.
For many years it was a truly mobile library, making trips to local child development centers all over the city. Then it was parked and opened only one day a week.
When you notice the condition of the Reading Railroad, it looks brand new. This is not a case of a decrepit, rusting, uncared for bus that belongs in a junk yard.
It must have been an object of desire for someone with political power. They must have been thinking, "what can we do with this vehicle?" As if it wasn't doing enough by opening the world to people of all ages through books and literature, music, movies, and personal friendships.
As if it wasn't doing enough by helping children to learn to love reading and books.
For some person at a board room table, on paper they couldn't see the child who used to avoid books gradually come to look closely at the shelves, gaining the confidence to say to himself, "I can read this one!" At home, this child was inspired to find places around the house to be with the books, delighted to find interesting stories and information. He discovered how the words began to make sense, how they created images in the mind and brought emotion and feeling to the surface.
The library sends out emails titled "Raising Readers" every month. In those emails, there are tips to help parents. Honestly, I never read those emails. The tips are not really the answer to bringing a non reader into the world of books.
If you want to teach a child to love nature, you don't show him an animal in a cage. That is not natural, that is captivity. If you want him to love nature, you take him outdoors.
If you want to teach a child to love books, you don't bring a book to him and say "read this." You take him to a library and let him browse in wonder. Then you introduce him to people who care about children and books. The answer to raising a reader is exploration of the stacks combined with trusting relationships.
When you are a small child, facing this great big, enormous challenge of learning to read, the people who are guiding you can make or break this journey. When your kindergarten teacher is impatient, and when your first grade teacher sends home a backpack stuffed to the brim with unfinished work, a feeling of "I can't do anything" sets in.
Remember this picture?
This workload was sent home in first grade as homework to finish over the course of one weekend. Elliot sat for six hours a day trying to get it all done.
All of his recess time was taken away during the week to keep up with his daily work.
His teacher gave us a deadline that if things didn't improve by Christmas, specialist help would be the next avenue.
We weren't going to wait for that.
Elliot DREADED school.
At home, he wasn't even interested in stories anymore.
I cried myself to sleep the night I knew without a doubt what we were going to do. I cried big, heaping sobs thinking about taking Elliot's education into our hands. I didn't know if I would be enough. Now I know that I'm not enough, and that is as it should be. Children need healthy community for learning.
Now I look back on that turning point when we withdrew Elliot from public school and rejoice. We are living such a beautiful journey together, and we have found support in our community.
We needed people to trust along the way. People who wouldn't be critical or overbearing, but who were gentle, encouraging and understanding. We needed people who were there on a regular basis to offer support in a non-threatening manner. We found them at the Reading Railroad.
We are so thankful to have Geneva Headen, Conductor of the Reading Railroad, as our friend.
When Elliot is visiting the library, his first steps are taken toward Geneva. He's there with his books to return and they both fall into an easy conversation. Her warmth, her gentleness, her kindness tells a child that this is a safe, good place to be, a place where you belong, where you are welcome. Geneva is a friend to all of us, including our dog Ozzie. On times when we've walked through the woods and brought him, Geneva comes out to greet him.
She is the kind of person who makes you feel good inside. We love her. Thankfully after the Reading Railroad closes, she will be working at another branch location so that we don't really have to say goodbye just yet.
We are also thankful to have met Sandra Cramer, who volunteers an entire day every week to help. Sandra is also a gentle, trusting soul who is easy to talk to and approach with questions. Elliot relies on Sandra to help navigate the stacks, and she walks with Elliot to search for books of interest. For the last three weeks, Elliot has been totally engrossed in the Geronimo Stilton series because she pointed it out to him. We have Geronimo on audio cds, on DVD, and in chapter books.
On the last day of the Reading Railroad, all three librarians will be together. We'll get another visit with Carolyn Powell, and have another chance to say thank you to all of these beautiful people who have made such a positive impact on us. They probably didn't even know how much they mean to us.
So we want to say thank you to Geneva, Carolyn and Sandra, for every kind word, for your constant, regular presence, for your generosity and friendship. Thank you also for supporting Elliot's Ninjas and purchasing paintings to help people experiencing homelessness in our community! That was such a great experience for Elliot to share his mission with you. I was totally awe-struck by the level of trust that has been established between these women and my son when he shared his project.
We are not ready to say goodbye to our friends and the Reading Railroad.
Not ready at all.