stepping into a book

Why, hello. Come right in!

I OPENED A BOOK
by Julia Donaldson

I opened a book and in I strode
Now nobody can find me.
I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.

I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,
I’ve swallowed the magic potion.
I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.

I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.

I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.

~ from Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum (Macmillan, 2004).
Edmund Dulac (Fairies I Have Met, written by Mrs. Rodolph Stawell, 1907).

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Now I’m wondering just how many books I’ve actually read in my life so far. I wish I had somehow kept track!

I do like thinking about all the books inside me, after years and years and years of happy reading – books that have widened my world and shaped who I am.

Safe to say you’re probably a fellow bibliophile, and like me, could not imagine a life without books. Many of you have also shared them with kids as parent, teacher, media specialist, or bookseller. Some of you have reviewed, edited, or even written them. 

Art by Claire Fletcher

It’s true what they say. The books you read during childhood are the ones that truly stay with you forever. I can’t recall many of the contemporary novels I read long into the night, some of the biographies that proved fascinating at the time, or the oodles of nonfiction research tomes I dutifully mined to quench my thirst for knowledge.

But childhood favorites like The Secret Garden, Little Women, Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables, the Little House Books, and we can’t forget Ramona Quimby – remain as fresh, moving and magical as when I opened and strode into them for the first time decades ago.

Art by James Gurney

How did I become so bookish?

I wasn’t read to as a child and my parents were more newspaper and magazine readers (except once when my mom joined the Doubleday Book Club – shortlived since she never had time to read what she ordered).

I guess books somehow found me (they have a way of knowing who needs them most). They kept me company while my parents were at work and I had to entertain myself. I spent my 25 cents weekly allowance on Little Golden Books and amassed quite a collection. I treasured the illustrated classics and fairy tale collections I occasionally received as Christmas gifts, and of course the public library was my mecca.

Art by Grace Helmer

There I discovered the unending kindness of librarians. Introverted and “afraid to ask,” I usually found my own treasures: The Water-Babies, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Boxcar Children, The Bobbsey Twins, All-of-a-Kind Family, Strawberry Girl, Caddie Woodlawn, Ginger Pye, And Now Miguel, The Pink Motel.

But one time I really wanted a book my teacher had read to us in class, only I had forgotten the title. So urgent was my need that my mom drove me to the library right after work. She explained my dilemma to the librarian. 

“Do you remember what the cover looked like?” she asked me gently.

“There was water and a canoe.”

“Oh, I think I know which one you mean.”

She plucked Call It Courage from the shelf.

“Was it this one?”

“Yes!” How did she know? She had gotten the right book, but couldn’t begin to know how happy she had just made me. 

Call It Courage endpapers by Armstrong Sperry (1941).

Another time, I was browsing the children’s section, not sure what I was in the mood for. My strolling up and down the rows of shelves in a confused state caught the librarian’s attention. 

“Are you looking for something in particular?” (nice smile)

“No.” (still shy)

“Hmmm. Can you name some of books you’ve read recently that you especially liked?”

“Henry Huggins. The Moffats . . . Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.”

“Know what? There’s a new book I think you might like.”

She handed me The Trouble with Jenny’s Ear by Oliver Butterworth.

I was intrigued by the title. I ran home to read. Devoured it. It was so good. I probably loved it even more because someone had picked it out just for me. Again, how did she know? I’ve been in awe of librarians ever since.

There’s no richer feeling than returning home from the library with a bag of books, nothing more exciting than cracking open a much anticipated title for the first time, surely nothing as satisfying as feeling changed by a good book – a shift in consciousness, an unanticipated revelation, emotional resonance that reminds you what it’s like to be human.

As Donaldson’s poem suggests, being transported by a book is both exciting and empowering. Time to put on our cloaks and drink the magic potion. 

What are you reading now?

♥️ Enjoy this audio of Julia reading her poem.

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🎉 SPINE POEMS GIVEAWAY WINNER! 🎈

Another giveaway!! Another opportunity to bribe Monsieur Random Integer Generator!! Since this was the fourth giveaway so far this fall, it took a little extra ingenuity to charm our dapper, mustached, monocled, erudite friend. He wasn’t tempted by mountains of pies, crates of caviar, or even boatloads of bonbons. Was he getting spoiled or simply reveling in playing hard to get?

Paddington and Mr Cornelius thought long and hard about this. Their powerful bear sense located M. Generator in Seoul, where he was practicing flying yoga with BTS (did I mention he can speak 45 languages?). What could possibly tear him away from this life altering experience?

Hot food. The spicier the better. So, after devouring 5,435 gallons of kimchi, 345 big bowls of ramyeon, and 23,143 pounds of tteokbokki, M. Generator was finally ready to pick the winner of a brand new copy of SPINE POEMS by Annette Dauphin Simon. And it is:

**drum roll, please**

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🍁 JAN IWASE!! 🎃

🐻 CONGRATULATIONS, JAN!! 🐿

And thanks to everyone for entering! Another giveaway coming soon. 🙂

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Author, poet, voice over artist, and champion cookie baker Matt Forrest Esenwine is hosting the Roundup at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. Sashay on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Have a good weekend enjoying a fine fall adventure.


*Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

46 thoughts on “stepping into a book

  1. Jama, I just devoured this post. Thank you, it reads like a love letter to books and the people that put them into the hands of children. Years ago, there weren’t the distractions of electronics and societal stress. I think it’s a bit harder to get books fully read these days. I see many a bookmark left in a book where a young person abandoned it. But, we school librarians persevere and celebrate the crossed finished lines of “the end” when we can. Thank you for this post. I have a pinterest board called ‘the art of reading.’ I’m pinning this post there. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank YOU for everything you do to promote books and reading. I sometimes find bookmarks in books I borrow from our public library. I try to take an optimistic view, though — the marked place wasn’t an abandonment, but a saved place to reread a good part. 🙂

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  2. Thanks, Jama for mentioning the superpower that all librarians have of finding just the right book for just the right reader. My absolute favorite book as a child was Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Another if my favorites was Hans Brinker: or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge! Right now I am reading Mother Daughter Traitor Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m in awe of people like you who have that superpower, Joanne. I think mine is a common story of how a librarian made a permanent impact on a child. I wonder if part of a librarian’s education includes kindness lessons — because I’ve noticed every librarian I’ve encountered, from K through college age, has been kind. I also loved Hans Brinker, and of course, I’m a diehard PRabbit/Beatrix Potter fan. 🙂

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  3. I love this post Jama! The illustrations you chose are all fabulous!
    I am also in awe of librarians. When I was a kid, we had this tiny library in our village and Mrs. Chickering was my first real book mentor. She got to know what I would like and save aside certain books when they came in. She was a priceless piece of my childhood!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah such a delicious post of thought, words and Art to awake to this morning, I’d like to climb into some of the art or stories mentioned and camp ⛺️ out there for a while—how I ❤️ getting lost in story. I’ve been reading Sonia Delaunay from the exhibit on her this year at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, in Humlebaek 🇩🇰. Thanks for your delightful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So many shared feelings – love books, introverted, afraid to ask or bother people, these words and illustrations swelled my heart. It truly is a delightful post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So glad this post resonated with you, Julia. I think we introverts find extra solace in reading — it’s a safe place where we can feel at home.

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  6. Jama, I love this post! As a devoted Julia Donaldson fan, writer and former librarian, and former child who, like you, once upon a time discovered the magical world of reading and never left . . . what would our lives be without books and people to share them with? Not to mention teachers who teach us to read and grandmothers who read aloud to us. Thank you, friend. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice to know you’re a Julia Donaldson fan, Jessica. I’m sharing another of her poems in a future post. And yes to teachers and grandmothers!

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  7. It’s the perfect time to celebrate reading when we will soon be inside with wintry weather outside! I love that poem, Jama, wishing every child could have that chance to “have a book inside me”. I have more than one special library story but the early one, living in a small town when we just didn’t run to the nearby big town to the library very often, is about the bookmobile and that woman who drove and managed it and who knew I read a lot! She always brought a box of books she had picked out for me. I was a happy reader! Thanks for this loving post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always been fascinated by bookmobiles!! You are lucky to have had that special experience — and with someone who brought boxes of books just for you. Talk about service. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Donaldson’s poem is so lovely and your entire post is an ode to book lovers. That so many can love books so much gives me hope. Right now I’m reading Lessons by Ian McEwan. It’s a long read, but I’m finding it interesting. The main character is a writer, a book lover.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m so glad you became a reader, Jama, because then you became a sharer of wonderful books, authors, illustrators, and other creators! The books of my childhood have also stayed with me through the decades – the “Tell Me Why” series and a collection of books from (I think) The Parents Book Club.

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    1. Hear, hear. And I’m always a little sad when a good book comes to an end. I’ve become emotionally invested in the characters and have been immersed in their world.

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  10. What a wonderful post. I loved the poem and all the art. The library was always my happy place. We went once a week and I always took out the maximum allowed. I am reading The Elephant Whisperer right now. Not my usual fare, but it’s very good. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Well, now I’m curious about the trouble with Jenny’s ear! 🙂 I love the poem about a book inside of you. I was very full of books indeed. At 9 I was reading Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens and my sister’s mystery/romances by Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney. I did also read children’s books galore and still enjoy reading them. So many wonderful memories you have listed in this great post!

    One of my greatest joys as a parent was reading some of my favorite childhood books to my kids, long past when they could read for themselves.

    Love the art by Claire Fletcher — she’s one of my favorite artists.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jan, for reminding me of when I was hot into reading Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney books — also Daphne du Maurier. 🙂 I’ve yet to read Dombey and Son (maybe this winter?). Good to know you’re a Claire Fletcher fan too.

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  12. As a fellow bibliophile, I loved every bit of this post, Jama. I also had wonderful teachers and a librarian who read to us. I can still remember getting my very own copy of James and the Giant Peach for my birthday one year. I was over the moon with joy! Thank you for sharing all the lovely art and Donaldson’s perfect peom!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a nice memory, Catherine. I didn’t really latch onto Roald Dahl books until I was an adult (better late than never), but I can relate to the joy of receiving favorite books for Christmas or birthdays.

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  13. This post is everything. Not only do I love the idea of all the books I’ve ever read being inside me, I love knowing I did that for hundreds of children. I brought back Matilda from a trip to England and read it aloud to my class before it was released in the USA. And when the first Harry Potter came out, it, too, was a read aloud. Good memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your cup runneth over with your own love and books and your love of sharing them. How COOL that you were able to read Matilda and HP aloud to your class! As I’ve said many times before, wish I could have been in your class . . .

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  14. Thanks, Jama! I saved “I Opened a Book,” definitely one to return to! I was telling someone recently about Harriet the Spy and they were completely invested in my retelling…just a retelling! How much they would have loved the book! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I smiled throughout your post (as always!), Jama. Getting my first library card was a huge moment for me, as a child. My parents would take all 5 of us kids to the library every Friday evening where we could pick out whatever we wanted — and I was grateful for the kindness of a librarian who took the time to find what each of us seemed to need. Thank you for the memories!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, getting one’s first library card is exciting. These days I miss the old wooden card catalogs and the date due cards tucked into the pockets pasted in the back of books. Also the reassuring sound of that large date stamper the librarians used.

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  16. Donaldson’s poem is spot on! And I adore tales of librarians who truly see children. My daughter has joined the ranks of those who can help find a book based on, “Well, the cover had some red on it and ….” 😄 Once, a little boy

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    1. Oops, hit send too soon! 😀 Once, a little boy said he couldn’t remember the name of the book but a funny lady put clothes on a chicken and Emily immediately took him to all the Amelia Bedelia his heart desired. ❤️😄

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  17. Your thoughts on childhood reading resonate with me! I had so little guidance, and I know I missed many books that I would have liked, so I like your stories about recommended books. And I was very happy when my reading skills improved and I could read adult books. Like you, I remember the often-reread children’s classics from my own childhood, but in addition, I remember the books I read to my daughter, especially the Little House books, which I wish I had known about in my own childhood.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  18. Jama, I am happy that you have so many books inside you and always share them with us. The audio version of the Donaldson poem is absolutely delightful. Thanks for this morning entertainment. PS: Since I love Halloween, your opening artwork reminded me what delight a Halloween party is. With credit to you, I am adding the artwork to my Finding Fall 2022 padlet at https://padlet.com/cvarsalona/awz68cfim4nac1rp. If you have any other photos, artwork, or baking goodies that you and your wonderful Cornelius and friends would like to add to the padlet, please let me know. Thank you.

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