The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Bookworm Club

December 7, 2007
Washington, DC

Recently, a colleague was in my office and we were talking about our exposure to books as children. I mentioned that even though neither of my parents had attended college (my dad went later in life on the GI Bill), books were highly prized and everywhere in my home growing up. She said, "Ah, then your parents were bookworms." Her choice of words reminded me that when I was about six or seven, my parents enrolled me in "The Bookworm Club", a summer reading program at the Camden Public Library in Camden, Maine.

In the early 60s, before its award-winning 1996 underground expansion, the library was relatively small. A beautiful brick building on a hill overlooking perhaps one of the worlds's most photographed harbors. To a pre-electronic age six-year-old, the interior of the Camden Public Library was like something out of a ?book. High ceilings with tall windows that cast long beams of sunlight across hardwood floors, long wooden tables with low lights, high-backed wooden chairs, card catalogues clustered at the center of the main room, and behind the central desk the ever present, ever pleasant librarian, Nellie Hart.

Each Saturday through the summer, we'd go and select a couple of new books. My first selection was Tim Tadpole and the Great Bull Frog. (How is it, I can remember this, and yet I can't tell you what I had for lunch yesterday?) Another favorite was Hercules, the story of a horse-drawn fire engine who felt his days were numbered as the "horseless carriages" came to town. Perhaps this is where my personification of books began. (See blog entry July 20, 2007) As further enhancement to these stories, my brothers helped me capture tadpoles in the pond behind our house and my dad took me to see the Molyneaux, a horse-drawn fire engine on display at the Camden Fire Department.

A trip to the public library got me: free books, time with my family, stories to read, and subsequent adventures to learn more about what was in the books. I loved The Book Worm Club and all that came with it -- including a wooden, black and orange bookworm pin. And in this, I am not unique. As we saw in the release of the NEA's analysis, To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence, little kids love to read. They love the new adventures that are opened to them through books. It's like when you graduate from your tricycle (and mine was metal with streamers, not one of those new-fangled Big Wheels. What? Those aren't new? Well, they're fangled.) to a bicycle and you're allowed to ride beyond the driveway. No one has to drive you or walk you holding your hand. You can go places! Books can give anyone the same freedom and thrilling joy of discovery at any age. I was lucky enough to have a whole family holding my hand to get me started so that when they let go, I was able to go places on my own.

I like to think of the Big Read as a giant Bookworm Club. Looking across the country at our hundreds of Big Read communities and the programming that they've put in place to enhance the reading experience of these great novels, I am certain that people of all ages will have similar awe-inspiring moments tied to a good book. Some may even get a pin.