Some lessons in life strike so deep and so true that it is easy to return to the moment. A couple of years ago I had a student (let’s call him Jonah) who loved books. Jonah wanted to be part of any conversation about books. He asked friends for recommendations, listened eagerly whenever anyone talked books and kept a “to read” list that was pages long.
In addition to being a book lover, Jonah was a well-liked classmate — always sensitive and encouraging with everyone in the room. It was impossible not to like Jonah.
Our classroom library is fairly large (1,500 books or so) and students are encouraged to read away. The classroom library belongs to the students and the guidelines for library management are reset with each year’s class. During Jonah’s year the students agreed that to ensure everyone had a chance to read the hottest titles in the classroom, we establish a “three books at a time” limit. Most of my 100 or so students had at least two or three books checked out regularly. It was wonderful to see the classroom library so well used.
Of course there were always exceptions to the book limit. If we were heading into a holiday break, students could grab extra books and if a student read quickly everyone was fine with that student checking out the next three or four books in a series.
As the school year progressed, Jonah kept checking out more and more books. He always assured classmates that he was bringing a couple back the next day but he just had to start the book in his hand. No one objected.
Late in the year I pulled Jonah aside and noted he had a fair number of books out. Fortunately, Jonah’s classmates had filed out of the room before he responded.
In a quiet voice, Jonah said, “Ms. Sanderson I know I have a number of books checked out. I have a small shelf at home next to my bed and it is so exciting to look over and see my own bookshelf filled…I have always wanted my own little collection and having these books all together makes me so happy. I have never had my own books.”
“I will be sure to bring books back tomorrow. Part of me feels bad for keeping these books since I have already read some of them,” Jonah added with his head down.
Jonah is a reader, a true reader and he had never had his own books. For him, happiness is a small shelf filled with books next to his bed. Being a reader is part of his self-definition.
As I look around my own house I know that the things I collect – the things I hold dear – say a lot about who I am and what I value. At twelve, Jonah made a statement loud and clear about what he values.
I told Jonah to leave the books right where they were. I told him the books had found a rightful home and my personal library was filled with gift books too. That afternoon I went to the bookstore and replaced the titles that had now become part of Jonah’s library.
It makes me happy to think about Jonah and his bookshelf. It makes me appreciate the books stacked on my own bedside table. Thanks in part to Jonah I will never take books for granted…isn’t that a gift?