99: The Book Fair

99: The Book Fair

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

The Book Fair

I know every book of mine by its smell, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things.

~George Robert Gissing

It was the week of the Book Fair, and our fifth grade class was scheduled to go to the library on Friday. I thought the library was an amazing place. It was filled with so many books that could transport you to wonderful and interesting new places, real and pretend. In my eyes, the library ladies had the best job in the whole school. I wondered if they secretly sat in a comfy chair in the corner of the library and read stacks of books when classes were not scheduled to be in there.

I loved reading. I loved all books, even encyclopedias. I had developed a habit of opening a book and smelling it before I started reading it. Sometimes, I even read the last page first.

Mr. Acree, my math teacher and favorite teacher that year, pulled me aside after class one day. “Vickie, the library ladies were telling me they needed a little extra help this week,” he said. “They are busy with the Book Fair. Would you be interested in helping them out?”

I couldn’t believe it! My face flushed with excitement as I thought about being a helper in the library. I grinned as the words came out of my mouth. “Yes, I would,” I told him.

I hoped I had said it loud enough. I was so shy, and Mr. Acree was older than our other teachers. He walked around the class as he asked questions so he could hear the students’ answers.

“Great!” he said. “Now, they can’t pay you for working, but you can pick out a book at the Book Fair, any book you want.”

I thought I would pass out from happiness right then and there! My large family didn’t have extra money for me to buy books at the Book Fair. But now, not only did I get to be a helper in the library, but I would be rewarded by picking any book I wanted!

I would say that was the best day of my fifth grade school year, except the best day had already happened and would be pretty hard to beat.

The best day of fifth grade had been at the start of the school year on September 9, 1976. My mama had gone to the hospital to have my fifth sibling. I was the oldest. I was so nervous and worried about my mama that I was having a hard time concentrating. Mr. Acree, being a good teacher, recognized when something was not quite right with one of his students.

He set his chalk on the metal ledge and slapped the white dust from his hands. He walked around to the front of his metal desk and braced himself against it with the palms of his hands. The midday sunlight made his white hair glow.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said to the whole class in his firm teacher’s voice. “Let’s do something a little different today. Let’s just talk about what’s going on in our world.”

The whole class cheered. I was so relieved; I closed my eyes for a moment. I knew I couldn’t focus on learning math with so much on my mind. I had already begun to wander mentally back to the long hospital hallways that smelled of disinfectant. My mama was sweating and breathing heavily when my aunt had picked us up. I barely heard bits and pieces of what the other students were talking about… the parade last weekend, the new rides at the fair, the beauty pageants and who would be going on what night…

“Vickie.” Mr. Acree tried to get my attention back to the classroom. “What about you? What’s going on with you?”

There was still plenty of chatter going on in small groups all over the room, so he hadn’t drawn anyone’s attention in my direction. I hated being the center of attention. I blinked as I looked at him, and he restated his question, “What’s on your mind?”

My brain raced to find something interesting to say. There was only one topic to be found, and I blurted out, “My mama’s in the hospital having a baby, and I’m worried about her!”

The room fell silent, followed by the sound of students shifting in their seats. Tiny white particles floated downward in the sunbeams cutting across the desktops in the front row. Within moments, several students had volunteered their own experiences with a newborn sibling coming home from the hospital. I listened intently as the stories unfolded, each one a gift of peace to me. By the end of class that day, I was no longer a worried, nervous fifth grader, but a confident, excited big sister. I didn’t feel alone in my situation. I felt connected to my classmates and grateful to my teacher — my favorite teacher.

As I dusted the shelves in the library, I recalled that special day back in September. I had already processed all the returned library books by inserting new date cards in the pockets on the inside covers and placed them in the appropriate location on the shelves. The baby, my little sister, was healthy. She and my mama had returned home in just a few days. I smiled as I thought about that happy day, my new baby sister, and all the fun stories that had been shared by my classmates.

“I’ve never seen anyone smile so much while they worked,” exclaimed one of the library ladies. I just smiled up at her and continued to dust.

“Well, you’ve cleaned enough,” she said. “Thank you for all your help today. Go on over there and pick out a book.”

My smile got even bigger, and my full attention was now on the rows and rows of brand-new books. I walked slowly toward the first shelf with respect and awe. It was a difficult decision, one that couldn’t be rushed. I took my time and picked up book after book, smelled each one, read the title, and glanced at the illustrations. Then I saw it… the perfect book, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by DuBose Heyward, with pictures by Marjorie Flack. The salmon-colored linen cover portrayed a mother rabbit with a string of little bunnies lined up on each side. The book begged to go home with me. My heart raced as I reached to claim it as my own.

I presented my choice to the library lady, received her approval and endorsement, and strode straight to Mr. Acree’s classroom to share my selection with him. His face beamed when I walked through the open door, holding the book close to my heart with the cover facing out.

“Thank you,” I said proudly. “I’m going to read it to my new sister.”

A smile spread across his face. I noticed wrinkles in his expression I hadn’t noticed before. I thought I saw him wipe his eyes. The sun shone through the window at his desk. His white hair glowed. For a moment, I thought I saw an angel.

Then he chuckled and said, “Good.”

~Vickie McEntire

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