As I'm looking for treasures hiding in the boxes I overhear a young lady by me exclaiming "yes, this one is great", while she is piling up baseball books with players I don't remotely know who they may be.
You can usually find many teachers at these sales that go to add to their classroom libraries books on topics their students like in an attempt that to me, the outsider observer, looks rather comical and desperate.
But I look at them with tenderness for no long ago I was one of them.
The first sale morning I went with the girls. The store was crowded. Even so, with Heather's help, I found a total of seven dollars, at 40 cents per book that makes...a whole pile of good books!
In the afternoon I went alone. The girls know I always bring books that don't rattle or shine but that hide wonders inside, such as this ABC book titled A PEACEABLE KINGDOM. It has many bird names, for each animal there is an illustration of an exquisite beauty. It's the girls delight, they want to anticipate to naming the animals, and it surely delights their mom as well. It combines familiar names with other less obvious which little by little solidify in our memory banks, slowly, at the pace of the airplanes flying while we read in bed or in the backyard, engraving themselves with the cooing doves, the AC motor and the sugar of their giggles.
Among my findings, we've been enjoying several titles such as THE GREAT BIG ELEPHANT AND THE VERY SMALL ELEPHANT. Whenever I see one of these yellowed books with simple sepia illustrations, and dated in the seventies, it usually never fails to be a hit for us. My daughters, even though they do not watch TV or commercials, they are twenty first century children, and these books do not drive them crazy at first sight, as they make me even more nuts than my usual. But the moment we open the pages and start reading it they request it over and over, three or four times actually in a week. It contains three stories that compete in tenderness, and the illustrations, though monochrome, invite to be contemplated as the story unfolds. The vocabulary is simple and gorgeous. It seems to me that during the seventies and before then (this is my appreciation and it may be wrong, I haven't researched it in full), authors had no scrupulous or fear to use cultivated words without forcing them, in true context and with elegance.
I see the topics chosen belonging to domestic life, such as when the small elephant is all frazzled about the impending visit of his great aunt since he is not a cook or home maker, and how great big elephant helps him with the cooking, cleaning, and preparing an outing to the store, a picnic, organizing the visit. (As the words cot and handkerchief come up my daughter asks. I tell her how her nanna (grandmother) uses them since she favors the British words as a Maltese citizen because they were a British colony for many years). She doesn't ask about the word "gay", she must know implicitly that it means happy.
The Great Big Elephant feels down because he is so big he looses all the time when they play games, and how the Small Elephant helps him realize he has different but important qualities. But all these topics are presented without moralizing, in a cute story, simple and rich, effective. LESS IS MORE in these books. And meanwhile I hear one of the store clerks talking about the new ABC for older kids book collection that uses difficult vocabulary in a funny story that is meant to help children to broaden their lexicon and supposedly to write better and get top of the chart grades too, the new literary panacea.
As I finish paying I look at the books which are written in comic style but that try to be more serious books in a literary Frankenstein. I see words such as "assume" underlined, arrows and explanations with pictures that aspire to compete with TV cartoons or newspaper funny strips...This new kid on the block is sold pricey too.
I'm walking to the car with my bag full of rancid treasures anticipating the moment I'll share them with my daughters and I tell myself, why, surely EACH BOOK HAS ITS OWN READER.