The cover was stained and faded, and the pages were tattered. The book I flipped through at the library book sale was clearly at the end of its life. I almost put it back. But...it was a story about a car making its way home, and my son, a toddler at the time, was crazy for cars, trucks, trains, tractors--any kind of vehicle that moved on wheels or tracks. It cost next to nothing so it would more than pay for itself if my son enjoyed listening to the story and looking at the bright illustrations even once. Into the bag it went with the rest of the books. The book I'd almost left behind quickly became one of my son's favorites. The pages that had first seemed too shabby were clearly just well-loved. We read it again and again, gently turning each already-tearing page. Repeated readings led to memorization. Soon my son could fill in the missing words whenever I paused and pointed to the text. He was in the early stages of decoding the symbols on the page that spelled out every word in every story we'd ever shared. He was beginning to read. The book? Traffic: A Book of Opposites by Betsy and Giulio Maestro. Our kids were showered in books since birth. Many were library books, many were used, and many were new since even our tightest budgets seemed to loosen when it came to books for the kids. New or used never mattered; what counted was what lay between the covers. Different books sang to each of them at various ages. That's the way it is, isn't it? You discover a book that's just what you need or want at the moment. It touches a part of you, somewhere between the top of your head and the bottom of your rib cage, and it's as if someone created it just for you. It's magic. Book magic. My son is now all grown up. He's taller than I am, and the tiny hands that used to bring me treasured stories to read aloud dwarf mine. He probably reads faster than I do, he texts better, and he definitely knows way more about computers. He has zero interest in reading stories together. It might seem hard to imagine that he's the same person as the little guy who counted the eggs with me in Margaret Wise Brown's Big Red Barn and lit up every time I pulled out that faded, worn-out book, Traffic: A Book of Opposites. But he is the same person. Today I'm dusting his room. It's long overdue, so I need to really dust--you know, when you actually pull everything from the shelves instead of skirting around books and knickknacks. Removing items from his shelves, I travel through time. To the left of the t-ball trophies, beyond the middle grade novels, above Wired magazine and the Kindle: his picture books. I take one from the shelf and set it down extra gently. The cover is stained and faded, and the pages are tattered.
Betsy and Giulio Maestro, you don't know me, but back in 1981--when I was still a child--you had a book published. You created it just for my son. Thank you for the magic.
*Originally posted on my first blog, Plotting and Scheming