Hear My Cry

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I pushed open the heavy door, looking around the room with as much confidence as I could manage. While taking a deep breath, I thought over again and again what was to be said. I had repeated it so many times in my head that it would never be forgotten. Obviously, I didn’t want to be standing there with my mouth hung open like an idiot, forgetting what I came to say. This question needed to be asked, even if it killed me. My heart was beating fast through my sweater, and my cheeks were already turning rosy red. Adults never made me feel very self-assured. What if I said the wrong thing? What if my question was stupid and she laughed at me? The what-ifs never ceased. By no means was I the most outgoing of little girls. Nevertheless, this was important and determined to get my question answered; I took another deep breath, and made myself look up from my hot pink Sketchers to the small lady behind that large, menacing desk.

“What book would you recommend?” I murmured over the librarian’s tall counter. Books upon books were stacked on either side of her in a hap-hazardous kind of way. Did she hear me? My voice had been barely over a whisper, this was the library after all. Then finally, she glanced down at me. She looked me up and down, took off her bedazzled glasses, and asked what kind of books interested me.
“Uh…” I muttered something inaudible under my breath, not exactly knowing what to say. I had always admired Mrs. Gilbert. At all times she had a book in her hands no matter what she was doing. A woman who read that much had to know a thing or two, right? To me she was the smartest person I knew. Any book she mentioned was bound to be better than anything I could find on my own. I wanted to be just like her. She smiled down at me as if knowing what I was thinking and led me over to a dusty old bookshelf. Never having been to this section of the library before, I looked around, apprehension in my eyes. Without a second thought she picked a book and handed it to me, still smiling. I read the title slowly, already not liking the cover art. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry; what does that even mean? The binding was barely keeping it together. The front cover was faded as if staying in the sun too long. And I could see the pages were yellowing. I was just about to turn my nose up at it when I caught a glimpse of Mrs. Gilbert’s amused face. Looking back and forth from the old book to her once more, I tried to figure out a way to let her down gently. But before anything could be said, she lightly patted my back and walked away as if to leave this decision entirely up to me.
After a great deal of thought, I finally decided to trust the librarian’s suggestion. How bad could the book really be? So I went back to Mrs. Gilbert’s desk with hesitation still in my step and had her check it out for me. I kindly thanked her and sauntered back to my classroom, wondering if I made the right choice. The book felt heavy and out of place in my cluttered desk. Silent reading time came around much too fast. While the other kids took out their new colorful books, I grabbed that old ratty thing from my own desk and opened up to the very first page, ready for anything.
The book did not meet my expectations. There was much more to it than some faded pages and a distinct smell I couldn’t forget. Incidentally, I had started my book at the same exact time my friend started hers, so without even discussing it, we began to race each other. After every day we bragged to each other about how many chapters we read and what was going on in our make believe lands. Our friendship was primarily based on bragging rights. It might not have been the healthiest of friendships, but it was a friendship none-the-less. And competing with her made my not so appealing book, much more interesting. Reading became exciting to me. It was like a game. And I’m all about being in first place. However, once it was over, I wanted more. The race didn’t give me a satisfying victory ending. In turn, reading became my obsession. I wanted to learn about new lands and damsels in distress and happily ever after’s. My friends read because they had to. But after I read Roll of Thunder Heard my Cry, reading became more than a homework assignment I needed to get done. It became a game. It became a hunger. Reading did not become important to me because I needed the reading grade; that gave me no drive to read more. And it was weird feeling this way because the book that had been recommended to me was a book that never would have been picked by me in a million years. But somehow that made it that much better. Perhaps I was missing out on a whole world of great books that I never thought to pick up on my own.
My search began. Seeking out all those old shelves, dusty corners, and too high places that all the other fifth graders stayed away from quickly became my muse. With a little help from Mrs. Gilbert I began to learn about the lives of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy and their little lives as little women. Nancy Drew and I solved mysteries together. And Shel Silverstein showed me where the sidewalk ends, with that distinct old book smell following us all the way. While the other students in my class were taking trips to Hogwarts and becoming orphans with the Baudelaire children, I decided to take a different, less popular route. Sure those books looked interesting, and let’s be honest, their bindings were sturdy and the pages still white. But I was on a mission. It was important to me to do something I wouldn’t have done if I didn’t get a nudge from a sweet little librarian with glasses that sparkled like the sun. My craving for a new way of thinking grew. For once in my life I did not want to follow what everyone else was doing like most fifth grade girls. And more importantly, I wanted to learn to not judge a book by its cover.
Mrs. Gilbert heard my cry. Somehow she knew exactly what I needed. For some reason I decided to go against my gut and check out Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry, which brought me to a whole list of other books that I never would have had the chance to read if not for her. I learned not to turn my nose up at a book just because I didn’t like the cover. These stories were more than just a beginning, middle, and end to me. They were more than simple pictures on some rectangle pieces of cardboard with some words in between. Having that book recommended to me that was so unlike what I usually read made me realize that the popular opinion was not the only one. My perception of literature changed because I got up the courage to ask my librarian a vital question that needed to be asked. Then, even though the front cover was not exactly what I had in mind, I chose to read it. Mrs. Gilbert was an integral part of my journey in reading that has brought me where I am today…that the appearance from the outside may not reflect what the story truly holds.





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