Jeff Nania standing next to Forest Lodge Library sign. Library director standing on other side.

Opening Doors to Adventure

I remember a young boy standing in line for the grand opening of a public library in Madison many years ago now. There must have been fifty people.  

Most kids that knew him would not have expected him to be there. You see, he tried to read, and he wanted to read but couldn’t read very well. Most folks wrote him off as being lazy or stupid.  

When the line moved and it became his turn to get a library card, he was mesmerized. The librarian at the desk had to softly call him several times. Finally, the girl in the line behind him gave him a shove and said, “get going.”   

The librarian typed his name and address on a little card and handed it to him. The bossy girl pushed him on and there he stood in a room full of books and his library card. He could take home four books for two weeks.  

No charge, just bring them back. The boy didn’t know it then but would soon come to realize that what he held in his hand was not a card, it was a key that could unlock the world.           

When two weeks was up, he was only half done with one of the books. The other three were unopened. He trudged back to the library defeated.   

The librarian checked the books back in and asked him if he enjoyed them. His face burned bright red when he told her that he had not even finished one. She looked over the books that he had chosen. They had nice covers mostly depicting the outdoors, but the text was at the adult level. 

She told him that on every Wednesday morning in the summer a reading group would start meeting at the library. She thought he might enjoy it and handed him a permission slip. She told him to bring it back signed if he wanted to join the group. 

He thought up every reason he could to NOT show up at the reading group. But each required telling a fib. He didn’t have any plans for Wednesday morning. His mother signed the form, thrilled with the idea of getting him out of her hair even if it was just for a morning. 

Book cover of Rascal by Sterling North

He arrived early at the library but there were already kids putting chairs in a circle, one of which was the bossy girl. All of the kids were about the boy's age. He knew some of them from school and others from the neighborhood. When they were all seated, the librarian held up the book they would be starting that day, Rascal by Sterling North.  

The librarian started off reading the first part of the story. After that everyone that was willing was encouraged to read aloud. Slow or fast, every word perfect, or not so perfect didn’t matter. Just read at your own pace. Mispronounced words tumbled from one reader to the next. Each time, the librarian helped them with pronunciation and gave them time to recover a lost place.  

Mustering all his courage he began. He started twice, and finally found the third time to be the charm. He started reading his passage in the book. One word after another, but the story was so exciting he got ahead of himself, and the kind librarian stopped him and said, “Take a breath.” 

When it came to the boy he felt as if he had swallowed a toad. But the story of a boy and a raccoon tromping the backwoods of Wisconsin was too much for him to ignore.  

The boy that began reading that day, was not the same one that finished. The new boy had a sense of pride. He felt stronger, somehow even noticing the bossy girl looked kind of cute in pigtails.  

I hope someday I can write something that would be worth his time to read.

Jeff Nania sitting in a chair reading from a book.
Jeff reads from his latest book, Musky Run at his local library.

Librarians open doors to new worlds. I support libraries every time I can—they are critical to our communities. Recently I had the chance to share this sentiment directly at the Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries conference. 

In June I spoke at my local library as part of their Wisconsin Author Adventure series and donated two large print copies of Figure Eight

How have libraries influenced you? What adventures have you discovered? Be sure to let your library know how important they are.  

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