In past posts, I’ve moaned about how I’ve largely had to give up used books because so many of them are musty and aggravate my allergies. And yet … sometimes the thrill of discovery is impossible to resist.
After all, I was a reader long before I became a writer. The lure of reading remains strong, and I hope it always will be that way. From time to time, my heart overrides my head and I’m willing to sacrifice breathing for the chance to grab an especially intriguing tome.
Of course, I have some books still residing in my freezer, stories that I long to read but may never get a chance to explore. I have books banished to the garage, books I dragged home much the way I used to bring home stray kittens. Someone ought to love these books. Someone ought to read the magical tales their covers shelter. Someone ought not to forget them or their authors, who labored long by pen or primitive little typewriter to bring these stories to life.
And then, now and again, I stumble across a book collector’s special trove, as I did last weekend. I had never heard of the BUDDY series by Howard R. Garis, but apparently there are 20 titles published between the 1920s and the end of WWII, with a 21st book that came out after the war. Buddy is a cheerful boy that experiences many enthusiastic adventures. Here is a sampling of the titles:
BUDDY ON THE FARM
BUDDY AT RAINBOW LAKE
BUDDY AND HIS FLYING BALLOON
BUDDY AND THE SECRET CAVE
BUDDY IN DRAGON SWAMP
I think these must be at a similar reading level to THE BOBBSEY TWINS series. Garis was also the author of such well-known children’s classics as UNCLE WIGGILY and THE CURLYTOPS.
I stumbled across the BUDDY books at an estate sale. They were being sold individually instead of as a set, so by the time I arrived and fell in love, six were already gone. The collector in me howls in frustration at the loss in value a broken set represents. The reader in me is delighted to have any of them.
Their dust covers and inside illustrations are charming, very much representative of an American era now gone. Notice how all the covers are identical except for the titles. Smart marketing for a small publishing house with an eye on the bottom line. Commission one cover painting and keep using it while also building brand recognition for the series.
I found one of the books particularly interesting. On the back of BUDDY AND THE VICTORY CLUB, copyrighted in 1943, is this statement from the publisher, Cupples and Leon Company:
BOOKS ARE A SYMBOL OF LIBERTY
Books have always been the priceless heritage of a free people. When a new volume has been added to our shelves, it simply means that democracy and all it stands for is still at work.
Take away our books, and we become slaves, unknown and unknowing.
They BURNED the books in that dark land of oppression and cast into the flames not only words of beauty and knowledge, but a symbol of liberty: Man’s right to read the books of his choice.
We must never let that happen here!
Buy War Bonds and Stamps now so that we and our children may continue to enjoy the blessings of freedom, now and forever.
So well expressed, and an important message to remember even today as America’s literacy rate slowly drops a little more each decade. Recent stories such as Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF remind us of how the Nazis sought to limit knowledge and suppress ideas through book burning. Ray Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451 conveys a similar warning in a futuristic scenario.
Last week, I was standing in the checkout line at Sam’s Club. A large dump at the end of the conveyer belt contained the most recent book in the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series. A little boy of eight or ten years wanted that book so much he could barely stand it. I overheard him negotiating with his parents because the book cost $8 and he only had $6. They wouldn’t let him have the book. Something was mumbled about how he’d already chosen an item in the cart and that was that.
Now I’m sure the adults were trying to teach this kid economics, but when I see a boy this age–in the demographic most at risk for dropping out of reading–denied a book, I have a hard time not butting in. I can’t express how intensely I wanted to step forward and hand the kid the two dollars he wanted.
He trailed away, his head down in dejection. Five minutes later (this was a very slow-moving line), he came back with a new deal on the table. He offered to eliminate the bag of Cheetos that he’d evidently chosen earlier, and that would make up the difference in the cost of the book.
I was so impressed by this child. He wanted to read a book. He figured out a solution, a reasonable one, and he made a logical pitch for it. He was willing to sacrifice junk food for a BOOK.
Did he get it?
Nope. His parents rejected the deal and kept the Cheetos. Score a point for Team Ignorance & Stupidity! In a year or two, this boy won’t care anymore. His interest in reading will have waned and died from lack of support at home. He’ll be lost to video games, probably never to read again for the rest of his life. He’ll be lazy of mind, low of imagination, and ripe for believing biased media sound bytes.
Even if we don’t have Nazis burning books these days, another way to destroy the knowledge and freedom of thought that derive from reading is to trample the desire to read.
Granted, there’s nothing deep or profound about the WIMPY KID series. I doubt there’s much that’s deep or profound about the vintage BUDDY series either. But their value lies in that they’re fun and entertaining. And as you and I know, fun reading can lead to the willingness to tackle more challenging books and insightful ideas.
I also found myself admiring Mr. Garis for the dedication he put in BUDDY AND THE VICTORY CLUB:
“To the boys and girls of the United States of America who, by their hard and unselfish work in collecting scrap, including tin cans, helped the United Nations to Victory.”
He knew his audience, and he respected these young readers enough to acknowledge their effort toward winning the war. Because, after all, everyone matters no matter how small, how young, or how humble.
Meanwhile, I plan to tackle the volume dated 1929 first. They aren’t musty–hurray!