The Book of Small

IMG_0875When I told my friend and former VCFA colleague Sarah Ellis that I was moving to Victoria, she gave me a copy of The Book of Small by Emily Carr. In her introduction to this 2004 edition (the book was first published in 1942) Sarah writes:

One of Carr’s greatest accomplishments in The Book of Small lies in her ability to express the visceral and transcendent joy of a small child, “boiling over like the jam kettle.”

Of the city itself, Emily Carr wrote:

Victoria stood like a gawky girl, waiting, waiting to be a grown-up city.

I enjoyed my first reading of the book, its droll commentary and the clever device by which the writer fictionalizes her own life. But it has taken me some time to read it as a story map of a place I am learning to call home.

Now the landscape is starting to glimmer through for me. The nine o’clock gun at Esquimalt. Fort Street and James’ Bay and Dallas Road. They’re all still here but now that I know them a little better I can see glimpses of their past as well. Childhood perspectives on people and events give the book its sense of a deeply felt yet impulsive reaction to the world.

The house was the wide, sitting sort. Vines and creepers tied it down to the ground.

Passages like that allow The Book of Small to rise above its occasionally archaic viewpoint. A few chapters read awkwardly through a 21st century lens—“green little Chinese boys for servants…” Shuffling Chinamen and squatting Indians. The elusive Oriental. The sort of thing gets under my skin but I have learned to set it aside when I’m reading across the borders of time.

Her overall perceptions remain remarkably astute—now I see what she means by that little aside on the gawky city. A city with a small-town feel to it, still torn between past and present, and still, perhaps, waiting to be grown-up.

Katherine Hauth on Summer Reading Seeds

 

From Katherine Hauth, on summer reading, books, and life.

My children’s lit. teacher had required each student to read aloud to children at least once a week during our course. If it weren’t for that experience, I likely wouldn’t have realized the value of “just reading” to children and the summer reading group never would have happened.

That class always started with her asking each student to share a first or strongest memory of being read to. Some years after my class, one student cited a summer neighborhood reading group as her strongest memory. When the teacher asked where the student lived, she learned it was my group. That girl had been among the first five participants. A few years later her son joined the group when he visited his grandmother, my neighbor.

That young boy, now 6′ 3″, stopped by my house to visit this last vacation. I hadn’t seen him since they moved to California about eight years ago. Such visits, as well as invitations to graduations and weddings, suggest that something personal and valuable happens when people share stories and time.

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Now that I’m officially a Canadian resident, I can claim the Greater Victoria Public Library as my own neighbo(u)rhood library. Here’s last year’s summer reading program logo–seems apt for what Katherine set out to do in Rio Rancho, NM

Reading group ended (or did it?) when there were no longer young children on my block. It was then that a former neighbor contacted me about starting a reading group. This was the mother of a girl who’d had problems reading, the catalyst for my reading to children. They’d recently moved to a new neighborhood with lots of children and the daughter mentioned how much she’d enjoyed our neighborhood reading group. The mother knew that a reading group could make a difference in a child’s life. Her own daughter was then working on her Master’s degree in a health science field.
We talked about many things, including making good friends with children’s librarians who are wonderful resources for the books children love and need. I emphasized reading each book aloud before reading to a child. Some good silent reads don’t translate well to read-alouds. It’s also good to know the story and where to place emphasis, slow down or speed up effectively the first time a child hears it.

What had started with a conversation between neighbors, plus a seed planted by a teacher, could continue growing, and planting new seeds.