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In the Library at Lunch on Monday
They come in a few minutes late, most of them, hands crunching the necks of brown paper bags and chests heaving beneath sparkly pink tops and plain black t-shirts and feather boas. “Where’s Cloud? What books are we reading? Who’s doing Thief Lord? I read Soul Surfer and The Borrowers, which one do I go to?”
“The books are Cloud at the front table, Soul Surfer in Mrs. Golhamer’s room, Thief Lord here, and The Borrowers in Mrs. Sarkin’s. If you read two books, you can go to either.”
Another comes running in. “I’m sorry I was late, I had to get my lunch! What are the books?” And the librarian’s voice hardly ratchets up as the repeats it again, and again, and then one last time for the final (fingers crossed) child.
To their credit, most of them sit, or at least cluster, around the tables they’re supposed to be at, and although the conversations range, the main topic is the books. Really, you can’t blame them. They’re pumped up, excited-- maybe a little too excited, although after all they’re only in elementary school. As the noise level rises steadily, Mrs. Polizzi and Mrs. Vermeeran converge in the back, occasionally standing up to ask for quiet. Then the teachers and parents rush in, toting books and lunches and broad, harried smiles. They find their tables, sit down, and start right in with the questions: How did you like it? What was your favorite part? Your favorite character? Oh, really? I didn’t like him that much-- what was it about him that made you feel that way? They draw the children in irresistibly, their questions opening a world of opinion, debate, and discussion.
Eventually, though, they stop. “Okay, let’s move on to talking about the book. So, can anybody tell me about the main character? Who is he?”
Hands shoot up, wiggling and waggling excitedly, and big grins coat faces as the teacher points to a girl in the back, dressed in a ruffled pink jacket over a shirt with a sparkly peace sign and a purple plaid skirt. “Prosper!” she cries, taking another bite of her sandwich.
“Very good. And who can tell me something about Prosper? Darius? Who’s Prosper?”
The boy looks up, wiggling his head a bit as he collects his thoughts. “Well, he’s a boy who lives in Italy.”
“Great! And what part of Italy?”
“Yup. So what’s he like? How old is he?”
“12!” he exclaims excitedly, clinging to this concrete question.
“Exactly. Does anybody else want to tell me about Prosper? Does he live in a nice part of town, or a not-so-good part? What’s his family like?”
As the discussion continues, the kids stay mostly focused, yelling out answers, competing-- “How many books have you read? I’ve read 20!--,” and talking over others and through the lunch in their mouths with happy unconcern. Stuffed in at the tables like piglets feeding, chairs pulled from other rooms and lunches melting into one another, they avidly read the handouts, sharing with friends because there are never enough, as they learn about everything from rising and falling action to what Venice was like in the 1800s. When it’s time to leave, they all look disappointed, but as they pack up and walk out, many still debating loudly about the books, they all have smiles painted across their faces.
One girl, however, hangs back, twisting her fingers nervously. “Mrs. Polizzi?”
She looks up, raising her eyebrows inquiringly. “What’s up, Eliza?”
“I don’t know if I can read all of the books. There are just so many of them.” She seems to scrunch in on herself, looking up through her curtain of hair and biting her lip nervously. “I’m trying, but I don’t know if I can read all of them.”
The librarian smiles easily, assuaging the girl’s guilt. “Hey, that’s okay. Just read as many as you can, and don’t worry about it. And I don’t want you to quit. Even if you can’t read all the books, it doesn’t matter. Just do as much as you can, okay?”
Relieved, the girl grins and nods and says thank you. And then she skips happily out, leaving the librarians alone to turn their scattered and disorganized library, tables pushed haphazardly together and chairs pulled out, crumbs on the floor and a few Ziplocs still hanging around, back into a regular place of learning for the class after lunch-- that is, until next week.