Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Value of Pie

There are a few books from my early childhood that really influenced who I am as a person (and a writer, I suppose). Each taught me things that formed my personality and sense of humor.

The King Who Rained by Fred Gwynne

The King Who Rained

One of my very favorite books EVER.  Beautiful illustrations, and very funny. The King Who Rained is full of homophone humor that instilled in me a love of word play and of picturing things in the funniest way possible. I guess I stole my whole schtick from this book, looking back at it.

Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel

Tikki Tikki Tembo

This book appealed to me because it had such beautiful stylized illustrations and a cute story based on repetition. I remember it being read to us in the library, possibly by my mom, possibly by the librarian;  It was a long time ago. I learned from it to be succinct in my writing and speech, to get my point across when it was most important.

Where the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein (25th Anniversary Edition Book & CD)

So many people love this book by Shel Silverstein, so I do not really have to expound upon its appeal. I did learn from it, though, that poems are better funny than serious, and dear lord, if I had only remembered that lesson in my mopey high school and college years when I wrote terrible embarrassing beat poetry that I, at least, had the decency to avoid reading aloud at the many awful and painful poetry readings I attended.

Amelia Bedilia by Peggy Parish

Amelia Bedelia Collection (I Can Read Book 2)

I never actually read this book, but it taught me a very important lesson.  And that lesson is, some people are total jerks and suck at their jobs and will shirk their own professional responsibilities off onto first graders instead of actually taking responsibilities for their own mistakes.

Obviously, there is more to this story.

When I was in first grade at Maryland Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, I loved reading and I utilized the school library as much as I was allowed.  Being the nerdpants I have always been, I was very respectful of the rules and always made sure I got my books back on time, because that was the rule of checking things out in the library, and you're supposed to follow rules.

Now this was a time when computers were things that took up entire rooms and were not available for frivolous things like library catalogs, and so everything was done by hand. You would write your name on the book's call card and the librarian would take the card out of the little pocket in the back and she would replace the card with a brightly colored piece of paper that was covered in rows of date stamps, and you would look at the last stamp on the page and that would be when you had to have your book back by... or else!

And so it happened one day, when the library sent their little slips to the teachers that kindly reminded the students that they had clearly not paid close enough attention to the OR ELSE caveat of borrowing books, and imparted to them that in their joy of reading, they had forgotten to bring back their books on time, that I found myself totally confused at receiving a slip that called for me to return "Amelia Bedilia" immediately.  I had never heard of this woman nor the book telling of her, and so I may have just ignored it, knowing it was quite obviously a mistake.

Until I went to check out another book.

The head librarian at Maryland Elementary was not the nicest lady in the world which is a nice way of saying, she was kind of a heinous bitch.  She was, in fact, the very same librarian who had been a terrible ogre when my dad had attended Maryland Elementary school 20 years earlier  And the problem was, she seemed to hate children, which is not the greatest personality trait for someone who works almost entirely with children, but these things happen.

Standing there with a book in my little hands, I pushed it over the checkout desk, eager to devour its story, only to have the crotchety old librarian cruelly tell me that I was banned from checking out books. I stood looking at her bewildered and then, she pulled out a call card. "Amelia Bedilia" she said, waving it in front of my face. I screwed up my face not understanding how this happened.

"But I never checked that book out.  I wouldn't know Amelia Bedilia if I fell over her!"

"Well, here is your name, in your handwriting on the card!"  And it was, it really was.

"But I didn't check that book out! The wrong card must have been put in the back of the book I checked out. I meant to sign for that one, and I returned that one, on time. I really did!"

And she looked at me, only considering what I said for a split second before she told me that it was my responsibility to check the call cards in books I checked out and that I would have to pay to replace Amelia Bedilia before I could check out any other books because I had signed for it, which seemed ridiculously unfair to me.  Even at that young age, I recognized that it was her responsibility, as the adult and the librarian, to make sure her library was in order, and her mistake was now costing me actual money (that is hard to come by when you are six) and was denying me the ability to fill my head with fanciful stories and beautiful illustrations and important information about narwhals that I would need later in life.

For many years, I held a grudge against Ms. Bedilia, which is a shame, because it was just the sort of silliness that I should have loved- a series based around a maid who had no grasp of idioms and so did exactly as told "dress the turkey for dinner, draw the curtains, etc." And THEN she manages not to get fired each time by making a super tasty pie.  Imagine the life lessons I could have learned from that!


  1. First library book I ever checked out (in First Grade) was a day overdue. I had plans for that penny.

    I will never forget Tikki Tikki Tembo. It's in the top three of "boy fallen down the well" stories.

  2. I was lucky to have a wonderful librarian, Mrs. Marshall. In 3rd grade I was reading Anne McCaffrey and the like. She would order new books just for me and pulled books out of the back room that hadn't been checked out in ages. I'm glad you overcame the ogre and kept on reading and sharing with us.

  3. Oh my gosh!!! I loved this post!!! Having been a first grade teacher, I am very familiar with all of these books, and I love them all!!! Especially Amelia Bedilia and her brilliance in pie-making! Love The King Who Rained and Tiki Tiki Tembo, and the lessons you learned from them. Completely agree that funny poetry found in Where the Sidewalk Ends and other Shel Silverstein books is better than serious poetry (although lately my blog is filled with the latter). But mostly, I identify with the importance of loving kids when working with them. It's a shame that there are so many non-kid-friendly people working in elementary schools. It's just WRONG!!!
    Anyway... glad you still learned to be the hilarious writer that you are, despite that wretched librarian...

  4. Pie fixes everything.

    The only one of the books you mention that I've read is Where the Sidewalk Ends. I used to love that book. I should see if I can check it out of the library here. If they even have it.

  5. OMFG! Amelia Bedelia was one of my FAVOURITE books! I had completely forgotten what it was called and heve been trying to remember for years!!!
    I always think of it when someone asks me to "draw the curtains", I picture Amelia Bedelia sitting down with a sketch pad.
    Thank you for reminding me what it was called!!!!

  6. Pie AND I Scream, you reminded me just now that I didn't make the peach cobbler this weekend, which now limits my choices for breakfast. And that means the I Scream will be slightly aged as well. Terrible.

    I saw your last picture with the pie, smile and flames, and I thought, "hmmm, Stephen King needs more pie in his stories."

  7. Oh, I just cracked up laughing hard when I saw your blog label "don't eat babies".

  8. I can't believe that, as a voracious reader and lover of children's books and mother of 3 children, I have NEVER read The King Who Rained. More importantly, I would like to find that librarian and punch her in the neck (and I don't really care for AB, either. So there.).

  9. Well, at least now I know that someone else has a terrible librarian! I've been kicked out of my school library several times for nothing more than trying to check out books that are "too advanced for my grade level".

  10. Oh books! High-five, fellow Nerdlette! Library day was always my favorite. However, at Hallsville Elementary we had the Goddess of all Librarians: Mrs. White. She was sugar and spice and everything nice. Maybe you could become a librarian and be nice to kids to make up for the terrible crotchety hag you encountered? AND, books! You'd get to play with books! All. Day. Long.

    Why aren't I a librarian?....

  11. That story made me feel sad for your 6-year-old self. I wanted to give that librarian the business. But since she was a cranky old thing 40 years ago, I assume the only business she's up for involves either bed pans or a funeral director. Either way, I'm not your girl. But I'm glad you finally made peace with Amelia Bedelia. I plan to go check out the King book with my daughter. I'll let you know how she likes it.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...