DeKalb County Public Library and the DeKalb Library Foundation have launched the wonderful 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program and it has made me think that I’d like to focus on reading more myself.
I wonder if I could launch my own campaign, say, A 1000 Books Before I Retire, or A 1000 Books I Really Should Have Read While in School, or even A 1000 Books I Shall Read Before I Go to the Big Library Upstairs.
When I think of the earliest books I enjoyed, I think of the Dick and Jane and Spot books, and of course, Dr. Seuss and Curious George. These books bring back memories of the smell of paste and working with construction paper, painting pictures and all the fun stuff we did in kindergarten. Prior to that I don’t remember much except for digging a deep hole outside by my dollhouse with a spoon from the kitchen drawer while Mom would hang up the laundry.
I don’t believe anything too highbrow came through our household at that time, probably the lone classics being my brothers’ copy of “The Last of the Mohicans,” or “Treasure Island,” which of course were way above my level of reading. My parents used to read their paperback novels in bed while we kids watched TV.
And so it was with a pinch of luck later on that I was allowed to select a title from my fifth grade teacher’s collection of paperbacks, which she invited us all to do as she was leaving after that year.
Mrs. Clarissa Kimbrall was retiring.
Grand Canyon School’s elementary students’ greatest fear was the mere presence of Mrs. Kimbrall. At some 5’5″ tall, with her stern wardrobe of a floral dress, light pastel sweater, hose and military-cum-old lady shoes, her intimidating stature struck terror in even the wildest or toughest juvenile delinquent or goody-two-shoes alike. Everyone in our elementary school got a knot in the pit of their stomachs when they thought about Mrs. Kimbrall waiting for them when they, too, finally reached the fifth grade.
We were so … um … fortunate to be blessed to be the final class to have Mrs. Clarissa Kimbrall at Grand Canyon School, in Grand Canyon, Arizona.
But along with everybody else, I stayed awake nights dreading the next day with Mrs. Kimbrall. It was when worry was formally born in my psyche. But we all lived to tell the story.
When somebody would have a birthday Mrs. Kimbrall would break out her infamous raisin cupcakes with pink frosting that were tough as a cheap steak. But we politely ate and smiled, for to leave that ‘treat’ (read: rock) uneaten – that which the old woman would bake once a year (it might’ve been years before!) and would store in her freezer to bring every birthday – would be to face the wrath of Clarissa Kimbrall.
One never knew what the day would bring: would Rusty Kemper fall asleep during reading? Would Mrs. Kimbrall herself nod off whilst reading aloud to us from “The Hardy Boys’ Mysteries,” her pinky finger gently resting at the side of her nostril just so? Would the class giggle and act up and awaken Mrs. Kimbrall, who would then unleash her wrath upon everyone?
But besides the gifts of respect, awe and terror, Mrs. Kimbrall gave me my first book. Sure, I had books that were hand-me-downs from my three older brothers, and I read their “Boys’ Life” magazines, but this book that I selected from Mrs. Kimbrall’s large collection was my own personal book, my first.
And the book I chose was … “The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek,” by Evelyn Sibley Lampman. I shall never forget it … or Mrs. Kimbrall and her raisin cupcakes.