always loved books. My mother says she read to me constantly as a
baby, long before I was conscious of what books were. As I grew older
she says I was always asking her to read to me. Books, children’s
books, comic strips and comic books... everything that had words on a
page. She smiles as she talks about how she would set the words to
song to put me to sleep at night. She winks when she tells me how I
would correct her if she skipped the words to well-known stories.
books have always been magic. They are portals to other worlds, the
most important of which has been my own imagination.
might guess, I learned to read early. The mystery of what was
contained on these strange marks on paper we call the alphabet was
one I needed to solve. Apparently, for all of her indulgence, I
needed more time with books than Mom could give me. By the time I
started first grade I was already living between the pages. One of my
most-repeated anecdotes of that time was when the teacher, Mrs.
Baldwin, yelled at me for not paying attention. She was teaching the
alphabet to the class and I was bored, so of course I grabbed a book
from the shelf in the back to keep myself occupied while the rest of
the class got caught up. Yeah, I was an arrogant little snot, but I
was bored. I still reach for a book when other people are boring me.
up in the country so there wasn’t a local library. My small school
was serviced by a library bookmobile and I couldn’t wait for the
weekly visit. Luckily it continued to make rounds during the summer
months as well. The librarian, Mrs. Berryman (who I have alreadywritten about), loved me because of my love of books. By fourth grade
a new grade school had been built, consolidating several smaller
schools and gave Mrs. Berryman a permanent home and large new
library. I practically lived there.
graduated to chapter books pretty quickly. The earliest full books I
remember reading were the Howard Pyle version of Robin Hood (I spent
a summer writing a play based on it and trying to recruit my friends
to be in it. It was, sadly, never produced. Luckily, in sixth grade I
was cast as Will Scarlet in a school musical production). I also read
both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. In 4th grade my
classmate Charlie Brown (yes, that was actually his name), and I reenacted
the scene from Tom Sawyer where the boys first encounter Injun Joe.
|Actual copy from my childhood|
|My really beat up copy of Tom Sawyer. The copy |
of Huck Finn is long gone. Mom says these
were my brother's copies from when he was
were a series of books on the library shelves that I plowed through.
They were a series of biographies of figures from American history,
written for children. I specifically remember a few: George
Washington, Abe Lincoln, Kit Carson, Brigham Young, Betsy Ross, and
many others. I read them all, some many times over. I credit these
with my interest in history which eventually led to one of my
particular stands out in my memory, but not because of history, but
because of art. The book was a biography of the Cherokee Indian
Sequoyah, inventor of a written alphabet for the Cherokee language.
The cover of this book, like all of the covers in this series, was
covered with drawings, done in the inked style of the comic books I
was so familiar with.
grade all of the boys were obsessed with cars, based on the Hot
Wheels and Matchbox toy cars. I had a bunch of these, but I didn’t
have the same obsession. Trapped indoors for recess in the winter
everyone was drawing their favorite cars. I tried, but just couldn’t
get the hang of it. One of my regular tormentors made fun of my
inability to draw. One day, while the others worked at their cars, I
did a freehand drawing based on the art on the book. It was, in my
memory at least, really good. Okay, really good for a third-grader.
My teacher praised it. So did other kids in my class.
tormentor said, ‟Yeah, but you still can’t draw cars.”
whole experience stands out plainly in my memory. I pinpoint this
drawing of Sequoyah, unfortunately long lost to the ravages of time,
as THE drawing that made me aware that I had some talent. The
one that eventually led to the art I still do today.
problem with memory is that it is incomplete. I have spent many years
of my life trying to track down this series of books. Unfortunately,
I had no idea what the titles were, or what the series was called. I
tried my Google-Fu with every variation of ‟American biographies
written for children in the 1960s” you can imagine. Nothing that
ever came up seemed to match. My visual memory for these, especially
for Sequoyah, is strong. I would know it when I saw it. But many
image searches later and I was still unsuccessful. Every trip to a
used bookstore for the last twenty years included a perusal of the
children’s section. Still, no luck.
books are magic.
or so ago I was in the main branch of the Carnegie Library. This is
not an unusual occurrence. I typically do two things when I’m
there; I look for very specific books that are next on my reading
list, and I browse the shelves to see what catches my eye. I
frequently discover books and authors I have never heard of before.
That day a book on a display caught my eye due the title.
Morningstar: Growing Up With Books by Ann Hood is not something I
would have ever been aware of except by the synchronicity of it being
there right when I have been researching the concept of Lucifer
Morningstar for another project I’m working on (not a Satanic one,
I swear). It’s also the name of the character I am currently
playing in a superhero roleplaying game. I picked up the book,
discovered it had nothing to do with my research, but saw that it was
a memoir about a woman my age and the significant books she had grown
up with. Good enough for me, so I took it home.
seven of her introduction she mentions a series of of books in her
childhood library called Childhoods of Famous Americans.
minutes on Google and I had it. Sequoyah: Young Cherokee Guide by
Dorothea J. Snow. I saw the picture of the front cover and I knew my
search had ended.
hadn’t. The thing is, there are multiple printings. I now realize
that I had actually found the book in my searches years ago and
didn’t recognize it because it had a different cover. I looked
around Amazon and Ebay and found copies but none of them showed the
back cover. I finally ordered one with the front cover I recognized.
It arrived a couple of days later and I excitedly tore open the
package only to disscover the back cover was blank. I had the book,
but what I really wanted was the drawing.
research. I discovered that the cover artist, who also did
illustrations for the interior (all of which lit up memory
switchboards in my brain), was Frank Giacoia, a name I knew from the
hundreds of comic books he pencilled and inked in the 1960s and 70s.
I found another copy for sale with a different cover, but by the same
artist. I ordered it. I was once again disappointed.
time’s the charm. Through Alibris I found a store in Florida that
listed four copies in stock. None of them had pictures. By this time
I had found a photo of the back cover with the drawing I wanted, so I
wrote to the bookseller with the photo. A woman named Virginia wrote
back immediately that she would go their basement and check the
overstock. Four days and eight dollars later and I held the book in
it last night. My eyes scanned words I haven’t seen in nearly fifty
years. I stared at the artwork and remembered doing that one specific
drawing, and some of the others I had forgotten about as well. In
reading it now, with a lot more self-awareness, I can see why this
book, more than any of the others in the series stuck with me. The
drawing I did cemented the image in my mind, but the story says a lot
about who I am, and who I was.
that’s a separate blog.