Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Honestly, I don't love every book I read, even though this blog might make you think otherwise. But I truly did LOVE this book. I think I would have loved to know Mary Ann Shaffer personally. I certainly would have loved to know her characters personally!
I listened to the audio version of this title which was beautifully read by Juliet Mills along with a number of other professional actors. When I finished listening to it I drove to 'Books & Company' in Oconomowoc, WI (a locally owned independent bookstore) where I bought a copy so I could also read it in print! Then I started listening to the audio all over again. Needless to say, I was well-prepared for our book discussion!
How could I not love a book that is:
1 set in the 1940's - one of my favorite historical periods (to read about, not experience myself!)
2 centers around books and readers
3 shows how beneficial and influential books (and people meeting to discuss books) can be!

I decided to write to write to the author, but knew that Mary Ann Shaffer had died and left the finishing touches of writing and getting the book to publishers to her niece Annie Barrows. So I found an email address and sent a request and some comments. Here is what I wrote and her response:

Dear Annie,

I am a school librarian and also the organizer of an adult book discussion group. I have enjoyed reading and sharing your Ivy and Bean stories with children in the three Greendale (Wisconsin) elementary schools where I work. We haven’t read The Magic Half yet, but it is on my shopping list!

I have just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and absolutely fell in love with the characters, the style and the spirit of this book! I am so sorry that your aunt died before she could receive the thanks and admiration of her many readers. Please accept my gratitude for your part in finishing the creation of this beautifully written story.

Our book group will be discussing the book on Tuesday, Feb 16th and I know we will have a delightful time talking about the story and the joy and enlightenment of reading and sharing great books.

I have one burning question. In earlier drafts of the book, was the text for Juliet’s article for The Times about the value of reading ever actually written? I would absolutely love to read such an article.

I am currently one of hundreds of librarians in schools whose job is about to be eliminated. The acceleration of technology coupled with the poor economy is leading school boards and superintendents to believe that librarians are no longer pertinent staff. I wish I had the communication talent to convince them otherwise! If you and/or your aunt wrote Juliet’s article I would love to read it aloud as a means to speak with eloquence about the power of books and value of reading.

Too many of our children are being taught the skills but are not choosing to read. They sit at their computer screens or video games and are absorbed in virtual worlds without language. I fear for our/their future! We learn about and can come to understand other people, other cultures, other ideas, dreams and goals through reading. Through books we can learn the actual thoughts of people that are not just like us. I firmly believe that we have more hope for peace and harmony through the sharing of good books from around the world than through any other means. Unfortunately, even the few eager young readers will not pick up a book outside their favorite genre without a professional librarian to encourage them to try something new!

Today’s school librarians have to be more than just pushers of books. We also teach information literacy skills like the ‘Big 6’ and work with students to help them learn how to evaluate online resources. We think these are important skills, but the adults who make the money decisions seem to trust Google to make their evaluations for the children and themselves.

I am sorry to be sending my frustrations to your inbox. Please know that I only do so because I so admire the writing of your books and have hope that you may send words to slay dragons.

Most Sincerely,

Jan Jensen

Dear Jan,

I wish that I could tell you the article really exists. It doesn't, but it should. Nicholson Baker's fabulous essay about card catalogues might be persuasive, but school boards and superintendents would probably be more swayed by that statistic that documents something like a 98% correlation between attending a school with a full-time trained librarian and graduation from a four-year college.

I spend a lot of time reading to kids as part of my job, and my impression is that they all enjoy stories up until about third grade, when a portion of them peel away and declare that they hate reading. I think that many of the kids simply are not ready to read on their own at that age; as with so many educational markers, the appropriate age to read independently is much more various than the curriculum permits. I also think that they are frightened by much of what they are obliged to read. As you can see, I have plenty of ideas of my own about reading and children.

Like you, I despair of a future without libraries, but I think hopefully of what Winston Churchill said: "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities."



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